Firefighters, Red Cross install smoke detectors in Akron neighborhood where 4 died in house fire

Posted at 1:05 PM, Dec 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 20:47:10-05

Santonia Penson's heart sinks when she looks out the front window of her E. Tallmadge Avenue home and sees flowers, teddy bears and balloons in front of burned house where two children and their parents died.

"It's a bad thought. It's a feeling that you don't want to look at because it could have been you. It's sad," Penson told News 5.

Penson, 45, assumed she had at least one working smoke detector in the house that she shares with seven people, including her daughter and grandchildren. However, when Akron firefighters checked Tuesday morning, they discovered no working smoke alarms.

Through an American Red Cross program called Operation Save-A-Life, the firefighters installed two free smoke alarms in Penson's home.

"It's a great feeling," she said. "You can lay down and go to sleep and don't have to worry about anything."

On Saturday, a fire broke out at 266 E. Tallmadge Avenue around 1:30 a.m., killing Shanice Riley, 8, her sister, Aniyla, 9, and their parents, Omar Riley, 36, and Shirley Wallis, 33.

A 12-year-old girl, Shaniya Wallis, survived the fire and is being treated at Akron Children's Hospital, according to firefighters. An adult, Jennifer Koval, also survived.

Akron Fire Chief Clarence Tucker said firefighters could not find any evidence of smoke alarms after the flames were put out.

Tucker said investigators are planning to meet with the city prosecutor to see if the landlord should receive a citation or be charged, since a city ordinance requires landlords to install working smoke alarms in rental properties.

The American Red Cross of Summit, Portage and Medina counties experienced a dramatic surge in requests for smoke alarms following the deadly blaze. Workers took more than 150 calls in just two days. Typically, the agency gets 20 to 50 requests in a week.

"It's a wake-up call. Again, something so tragic like this, it does really bring about, for us, our ability to keep our community safe," said Rachel Dattoma, the executive director.

Akron firefighters are planning to install smoke detectors in various neighborhoods all week, but started in North Hill neighborhood because the tragedy is on the minds of so many."

"Many people knew the family. The kids went to school with other kids. It's really hitting home. They're really sensitive to the smoke detector issue," said Lt. Sierjie Lash.

Anyone is eligible for the free smoke alarms with no questions asked. Those interested should call the American Red Cross at 330-535-2030.