Six Siblings Died in Little Falls (NY) Fire 30 Years Ago

Donna Thompson

The Times Telegram, Herkimer, N.Y.

(MCT)

Sep. 17—This December will mark the 30-year anniversary of the death of the six McLeod children in a house fire in Little Falls.

And while the event may be painful to recall, two local organizations want to make sure those children are remembered — and that a tragedy like this never happens again.

To that end, the Herkimer County Hunger Coalition and the Greater Herkimer Lions Club have developed the Never Again Project to improve fire prevention awareness among area school children and the public and to honor the memories of the children, who ranged in age from 1 to 10.

Douglas, Jonathon, Daniel, Kelly, Christopher and Shannon Rose died Dec. 22, 1991, in a fire caused by an electric heater that ignited combustible materials in the dining room of the house.

The children’s mother, 30-year-old Sheila McLeod, a Buffalo native, was out of town at the time, and the only one to escape the fire was the 14-year-old boy who was babysitting.

The teen tried to reach the children, but was forced back by the flames and ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help, a firefighter reported at the time. Some of the children still were in their beds when firefighters entered the house. Others were found in hallways, apparently having tried to escape.

The 30th year anniversary of the tragedy seemed an appropriate time to remember those children and to educate children and families about fire prevention and fire safety, said Ray Lenarcic, founder of the Hunger Coalition.

The initiative includes a Half and Half Fire Safety Contest for local third-graders. Participants are asked to draw their own original character for the contest, but along with their entry, each must submit an exit plan for their house, according to Lenarcic. The contest booklet also offers fire prevention and safety information for families and teachers.

The idea for the half and half contest came from then-9-year-old nephew Logan Crouse, Lenarcic said. Children are asked to create a unique character using half of one animal and half of another. Examples include Bev the Birtle, which is half bird, half turtle, and Odie the Ostrile, which is half ostrich, half crocodile.

Participating schools will forward entries by Nov. 12 to HCHC, PO Box 622, Herkimer, N.Y. 13350. Contest winners will be announced Thanksgiving eve, Nov. 24.

Lenarcic reached out to all Herkimer County schools. Little Falls and Herkimer have signed on to take part in the program. He also is discussing the program with school officials at Frankfort-Schuyler and Mount Markham.

The Herkimer school community experienced a fire tragedy in January 2019 when the three young DeCarlis brothers, Jackson, Richard and Michael, ages 1, 6 and 7, respectively, died in an early morning fire caused by an electrical problem.

In addition to the contest, Lions and Coalition members plan to develop a schedule for Sparky the Fire Robot to visit local elementary schools. Volunteers from MOVAC will operate the robot, demonstrating the use of fire extinguishers and going over fire safety information.

The robot, complete with lights and siren, interacts with the children, offering tips on fire safety and prevention.

“The kids love it,” said Lenarcic.

Organizers also will be asking high school clubs and athletic teams to consider going door-to-door in their communities to ask if residents have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and distribute fire safety information.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the information could be dropped off, Lenarcic added, noting that contact information for local fire departments would be included for those who need smoke detectors. Student volunteers will receive certificates of participation, he said.

Religious groups or other organizations also can get involved by calling 315-866-7765 or 315-866-2011. Monetary donations also are welcome. For more on the program, visit https://hchungercoalition.org.

Donna Thompson is the government and business reporter for the Times Telegram. Email her at donna@timestelegram.com.

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