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Community Safety

Lessons Learned from Apartment Fires in Springfield This Week

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Kathryn Eutsler/KSMU
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Two major fires in Springfield apartment buildings this week have firefighters urging residents to be more aware of fire prevention methods.

The first fire happened on Sunday morning at Madison Tower.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from these two fires.”

That’s Cara Erwin, fire and life safety educator for the Springfield Fire Department. She says on Sunday, combustibles too close to the stove caught fire after a resident’s stove was unintentionally turned on.

The fire alarm did go off, “But [residents] either couldn’t get out or were delayed in doing so, and by the time they opened their doors to get out, the hallways were so filled with smoke that they did what we call ‘sheltering in place,’ and they waited for the firefighters to come and rescue them,” says Erwin.

A total of eight residents were rescued, and three were treated for smoke inhalation.

The first lesson to be learned from this, says Erwin, is to make sure the area around your stove is clear.

“If you’ve got paper towels or oven mitts or old bills too close to that stovetop, you’re going to get a fire really quickly,” Erwin says.

Secondly, if you do hear a fire alarm, always take it seriously. And if real, pay attention to how much smoke is in the air.

“The entire eighth floor was filled with pretty heavy smoke, and that’s what was causing a lot of the problem with many residents not being able to get out.”

When the residents couldn’t get out, they stayed where they were, and that was the correct response, according to Erwin. But, she says when you are sheltering in place, it’s important to open a window and yell for help.

“Some of the problems or delays we ran into on Sunday morning is because there were residents that were sheltering in place, and we didn’t know where they were.”

The fire on Tuesday night was at Sunshine Terrace. When a cigarette was not disposed of properly, a resident’s couch caught on fire.

“But the real problem here was the tenant came out of another room, saw that the couch was on fire, then tried to carry the cushions into the bathroom to put out the fire.”

Erwin says that can be very dangerous. 

“Whether it be a cushion or even a skillet on the stove, don’t try to carry that outside. All that’s going to do at a minimal will spread the flames, and could ultimately cause death.”

The man suffered burn injuries.

In addition to practical prevention steps, it is important to speak with your landlord about smoke alarms and sprinkler systems if you rent a home, according to Erwin.

Springfield Buildings that have been built since 2000 are required to have sprinkler systems, but Madison Tower and Sunshine Terrace do not.

“Current fire code does require sprinklers in multi-family dwellings, however, there are a number of properties that have been grandfathered in to the old code, which means they are not required to have them.”

Five injuries and over a dozen displaced families

Duane Hallock, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, says he cannot comment on the specific condition of the victims, but says they are being taken care of.

“We make sure they have a safe place to sleep that night or the next three nights, we will talk with them to make sure they have clothes to wear, that they have food to eat.”

In the end, he says, the Red Cross’ main focus is to get people back on their feet so they can take necessary steps for housing solutions.

Major fires in Springfield were down heading into this month. Statistics show that through the first third of the year, structure fires were down 26 percent and residential fires down 21 percent over the same time period last year.

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