EUCLID, Ohio — An 83-year-old man died early Monday at his house in Euclid, where neighbors called to report a fire about 4:30 a.m.
The man, whose name has not yet been released as the fire department tries to reach family members, was a fixture in the neighborhood, according to people living on East 194th Street where the fire took place.
“It hasn’t digested yet for me,” said Jill Russell, the man’s neighbor and friend. “It doesn’t seem real. It seems like it’s a movie.”
Firefighters searched the first floor of the house, where neighbors said the man could typically be found, but it wasn’t until they used a ladder to enter a second-story window that they found the man, unresponsive and lying beneath a window, as though he had been trying to escape.
“They were breaking the windows and trying to figure out where he was located and he was located in the bedroom on the left,” said Dori Weiss, a neighbor who said she and other neighbors saw the fire and smoke as crews tried to put out the flames. “And then they brought him down the ladder.”
Russell, who said she has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, said the man who died was honored this past week by Euclid High School’s alumni association.
“He’s a lifelong resident of Euclid, the kindest man that you would ever meet,” Russell said. “[He] has accomplished so much in his life.”
A program from the alumni association event gives an overview of the man’s life, noting that he served in the Navy, attended Harvard University and the University of Michigan Law School and later practiced corporate law.
Russell said the man also loved music and loved to read, a sentiment echoed by former neighbor Spence Brady, who said he grew up in the neighborhood and remembered the man.
“He was very well-spoken, very proper with his diction and so forth,” Brady said. “He was a very educated man, so that’s what I’ll remember of him.”
Russell said the man had not gotten out much the last few years, but prior to that, he was social and well-known.
“He will be really missed by everybody here,” Russell said. “It’s just a sad situation that this had to happen.”
The fire department said the cause of the fire was still under investigation, but that it did not appear there were working smoke detectors in the house on East 194th Street. Assistant Fire Chief William Anderson also said “hoarding-type conditions” in the house made firefighter's jobs even more difficult.
“Things stacked from the floor all the way up to the ceiling throughout pretty much every room in the home,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that during a fire, when heavy smoke can reduce visibility already, excessive clutter can create additional problems for the firefighters inside.
“As we’re crawling, we’re running into things because now we can’t see,” Anderson said. “Now things are falling on top of firefighters and we run the risk of becoming trapped because of the weight of all the belongings that can be in a structure.”
Anderson also noted that as firefighters spray water onto the fire, the water absorbs into items in the house and can create extra weight, increasing the risk of a collapsed floor.
He said that even though it’s not a situation firefighters encounter frequently during fires, it is common for them to see hoarding conditions or excessive clutter when they respond to EMS calls, and hoarding conditions can make a house more prone to fire.
“We cook, we heat our homes, we have electrical appliances and electronics that we use,” Anderson said. “Maybe we have fireplaces. All those same things happen in a hoarding home. So now you have open flames, you increase the risk of fire. You have electrical outlets that maybe are overloaded. You have power strips that are full.”
Anderson urged people to be safe in case of a fire by knowing two exits out of the building and by having working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to protect themselves and their families.