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Three fires, three deaths, zero working smoke alarms: Cleveland fire pushing fire safety message

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Posted at 4:42 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 18:41:55-04

CLEVELAND — Cleveland fire officials are sounding the alarm about smoke alarms after three fires over the course of five days claimed the lives of three people. None of the three victims had working smoke alarms in the homes at the time of the fire, Lt. Mike Norman said.

The first fire happened around 9 a.m. on Friday at a second floor apartment unit on Fleet Avenue near East 57th. The apartment unit, which is located above a business, was quickly overcome with smoke. Firefighters quickly removed the two men inside. The 62-year-old victim later died at MetroHealth.

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Early Monday morning, firefighters were dispatched to a house fire near East 86th and Cannon Avenue. When firefighters arrived, they initially struggled to gain entry into the home, which had a large volume of contents stacked inside, fire officials said. Hoarding-related activities appeared to be going on inside. Once firefighters made entry, a 68-year-old woman was found unresponsive. She was pronounced dead on scene.

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The final fatal fire occurred early Tuesday morning at a home near East 170th and Leeds Ave. in the Collinwood neighborhood. Three Cleveland police officers were initially dispatched to the home and immediately saw smoke coming from the back of the house. After notifying Cleveland Fire, the officers used a flashlight to break through the front security door.

“We’re trained for it and we’re equipped for it," said Lt. Mike Norman with Cleveland Fire. "To go in there with just a police uniform was really an act of bravery. Really outstanding job by those officers. It was a tragic result, unfortunately, but the effort was heroic for sure.”

The officers managed to retrieve the victim, who was located just beyond the front door. Officers continued to perform CPR until paramedics arrived. The victim, a 61-year-old woman, died at MetroHealth.

“All three of those residences did not have working smoke alarms. We really want to get the message to people that the only smoke alarms that will save your life are working smoke alarms,” Norman said.

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The three fatal fires over the past five days brings the city’s total 2022 fire deaths to 9, which is slightly higher than average, Norman said. As is often the case nationwide, Norman said a majority of the fire fatalities in Cleveland every year occurred at homes without working smoke detectors or smoke alarms.

“With fires and smoke alarms, it’s about time for both the residents and for the firefighters,” Norman said. “The sooner we can get there, the sooner we can put that fire out. There’s less damage to the house and a less of a chance that we will have fatalities like we have had, unfortunately, since Friday. The new contents in these houses right now, there are so many petroleum-based products. The furniture, the clothing, the electronics; it’s all plastic. It burns hotter. The smoke is more toxic. It’s a more dangerous fire than we have had in the past.”

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In addition to ensuring that the smoke alarms in your home all have working batteries, Norman said it is important for residents to ensure that the unit itself isn’t beyond it’s 10-year lifespan.

In partnership with the American Red Cross, the Cleveland Fire Department provides and installs free smoke alarms as part of Operation Save-A-Life, a program started in Cleveland in the early 1990s but has since been adopted nationwide. The program has been credited with saving the lives of hundreds of people. Hundreds of thousands of smoke alarms have been provided and installed since the program’s inception.

All elderly and low-income Cleveland residents of Cleveland qualify for this no-cost program. Residents are encouraged to call 216-361-5535.

“We just really want to remind people that you always need to make sure those smoke alarms are working and that the batteries are functional because those are going to save your life,” Norman said.