CLEVELAND — Toccara Archie knows how fortunate she was that flames did not completely consume her Cleveland home on Dec. 11, so she's urging everyone to check on the status of their smoke alarms.
Archie and her 10-year-old son were able to escape the smoke and flames due to working smoke alarms and some alert neighbors. The Cleveland Division of Fire told News 5 her next-door neighbor started the blaze due to unattended cooking.
“I didn’t even know what was going on, so people were banging on my door by the grace of God to wake me up," Archie said. "As soon as I came outside, all that you heard was a boom, boom, boom. Everything was just popping throughout the house.”
Two days earlier, on Dec. 9 News 5 was on the scene of yet another double house fire on East 143 Street, which left two families homeless. Fire investigator still aren't sure what started the blaze. Charles Gunn and his family also realize how fortunate they were to escape uninjured. Gunn praised the effort by Cleveland fire fighters and confirmed the importance of working smoke alarms on every floor of his home.
"We were very fortunate, very fortunate for myself and the family," Gunn said. “Oh yes, we lost a whole lot of things, but I’m not going to cry over spilled milk, I’ll just keep on pushing.”
Cleveland Division of Fire Pubic Information Officer Lt. Mike Norman told News 5 a significant increase in home fires during the holiday season is a consistent issue year-after-year. Norman stressed the importance of working smoke alarms in allowing people to more quickly exit their homes, and directed residents to the Cleveland Fire Prevention and Safety web page.
“Smoke alarms give people advance notice, it’s really about time for us, it gives us the chance to get there quicker so we can have a better result with the fire," Norman said. “Today’s fires burn hotter than they did before, they spread quicker than they did before, you have less time, you have as little as two minutes to get out of the house.”
Jim McIntyre, Regional Communications Director with the American Red Cross of Northern Ohio told News 5 more homeowners and tenants need to sign-up for the Northern Ohio Home Fire Campaign, which can provide free smoke alarms and a home fire safety inspection conducted by the Cleveland Division of Fire.
McIntyre said the successful national fire campaign basically got its start in Cleveland.
The Home Fire Campaign began nationwide, that campaign was modeled in part after a program that began in Cleveland in 1992," McIntyre said. “In Cleveland, and throughout Northern Ohio, we’ve installed more than 230,000 smoke alarms. It’s been documented that this program has saved more than 1,400 lives across the country since 2014 when we began tracking those numbers.”
“If you have a fire, smoke alarms can cut your risk of dying in a house fire in half," McIntyre added. "So it’s very important that people have working smoke alarms on every floor of their home, outside of every sleeping area, and ideally inside every bedroom.”
He continued, “We want you to change that battery once a year, you should change your smoke alarms every ten years, because with time the sensitivity of smoke alarms lessens. It's important to have two escape routes from every room and have a place to meet outside your home so that you know everyone in your family is safe.”
McIntyre stressed the importance of Red Cross donors and volunteers who continue to make the Northern Ohio Home Fire Campaign a reality.
“It’s very emotional especially for our responders, most of whom are volunteers, people who out of the goodness of their hearts will get out bed at two o’clock in the morning in order to go comfort a family who has just gone through its darkest hour, they’ve lost everything,” McIntyre said. “The only way we can install smoke alarms, the only way we can respond to home fires in the middle if the night, on average more than three everyday in Northern Ohio, is through the generosity of our donors.”
Meanwhile, Archie is hoping Cleveland residents without smoke alarms will sign-up for the program.
“It’s the holiday time and people are trying to cook, but you have to pay attention to those stoves and those space heaters," Archie said. “You got to be safe out here because you never know what the next household is doing, you never know what the upstairs is doing, so you have to get the program, take advantage of it.”