By Bruce Garner
Three people barely escaped with their lives when fire broke out in their Chattanooga (TN) home early Saturday morning. Fire investigators were told that three people, two adults and child, were in the house at 317 N. Highland Park Avenue when fire broke out just before 4:00 a.m. The seven-year-old boy reportedly woke up to the smell of smoke and saw flames in the living room, so he woke up his father and uncle, who were asleep in the other two bedrooms. The son’s father got up, but the smoke was already very intense, so he crawled on the floor to get his son.
The father led his son back to his bedroom by crawling on the floor and then broke out a bedroom window with his hands, cutting himself in the process. They waited as long as they could, but the man’s brother did not join them them, so they escaped out the window. While his son ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911, his father grabbed a ladder and took it around the back of the house to see if he could get to his brother. By that time, Chattanooga firefighters arrived on the scene.
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Captain Dusty Rose, the incident commander, said heavy smoke and flames were visible at the front of the house. The firefighters initially tried to enter through the front door, but were unable to gain access. They then went to the back of the house and entered through the back door. The smoke and heat was so intense, they had to crawl on the floor to search for victims. Captain Rose said Captain Joey Smith and Firefighter Tyler Toon found the man’s brother unconscious on the bedroom floor. They quickly carried the man out and handed him off to paramedics with Hamilton County EMS.
All three victims were transported to Erlanger Medical Center. The seven-year-old boy was treated and released for smoke inhalation. His 33-year-old father, who had cuts and abrasions to his hands and arms from breaking out his window, was expected to be treated and released. Captain Andrew Waters with the Fire Investigation Division said the man’s 36-year-old brother, who was carried out of the house by firefighters, was suffering from severe smoke inhalation and second and third degree burns to his upper body. After his condition was assessed at Erlanger, he was flown by Life Force Air Medical this morning to the burn unit at WellStar Cobb Hospital in Cobb County, Georgia. He was listed in critical condition.
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Captain Waters said the firefighters were able to contain most of the fire damage to the living room, where the fire appears to have started. However, the rest of the house had severe smoke, heat, and water damage. Captain Waters said he found two smoke alarms in the house, but both were inoperable because the batteries in them had been turned around. It is not known why the batteries were turned around.
Lt. Henry McElvain is assisting with the investigation. For now, the cause of the fire remains undetermined. The names of the victims are not being released until all next-of-kin have been notified. Chattanooga police and EPB also provided valuable assistance on the scene.
BRUCE GARNER is the public information director for the Chattanooga (TN) Fire Department, a Class 2 ISO fire department.