By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — It was luck that saved the lives of two Ottumwa grandmothers this weekend.
Luck and an 8-year-old girl. If the child hadn’t come to visit Grandma and had not been up late, there was no way the sleeping family would have known the house was on fire.
“They had no working smoke detectors,” said Mike Craff, assistant fire chief for the Ottumwa Fire Department. “If it hadn’t been for this 8-year-old girl being up and awake, I don’t know that they would have made it out of there.”
Assistant chief Rick Kleinman says he knows. They wouldn’t have. Kleinman was at the scene of the fire, which occurred at 531 Osceola Ave. around 3 a.m. Saturday.
“The grand daughter, Zoe, went to spend the night with Grandma. She was in the front room watching TV in the wee hours, and Grandma went into the kitchen and cooked something,” said Kleinman. “The grandmother sat in a recliner and fell asleep. Great-Grandma was asleep in the back room.”
“The fire started in the kitchen,” added Craff, “and that’s where the only entrance was. The other one was blocked.”
Zoe Phillips, 8, had to act fast, both firefighters agreed, for everyone to get out that one door in a room that was starting to burn.
“She was pretty sharp for that age,” Kleinman said. “The granddaughter may have climbed out a window, but Grandma wasn’t climbing out a window, and Great-Grandma wasn’t climbing out any windows. We would have had two fire fatalities. She didn’t panic. She woke them and saved her grandmother and great-grandmother’s lives.”
As it was, the grandmother, who first tried to extinguish the fire, was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation treatment.
The OFD was able to contain the fire to the kitchen.
“I have a feeling if that girl hadn’t come to visit, hadn’t been awake and hadn’t told her grandmother something was wrong,” said Craff, “it would have been a bad deal.”
A family member said Grandma is doing fine.
Ottumwa has had fire after fire recently, and in many cases, it’s only luck or divine intervention that has allowed families to escape with their lives, the two fire officers said. It was clearest to them at this fire that luck can’t be the only thing keeping Ottumwans alive, they said. Every year, the fire department, along with organizations like the Ottumwa school district, works to raise enough money to purchase smoke detectors. Then, they give the smoke detectors to any homeowner who needs one. Free.
“We’ll even come to your house and install them,” said Kleinman.
And if it’s a disabled or elderly person who can’t climb up to change the battery in the smoke detector, they’ll come do that, too. What they don’t want are fatalities that could have been prevented so easily.
“A lot of people have smoke detectors, they just don’t maintain them,” Craff said. “These fires … it’s getting to be too many here.”
One more thing, said Kleinman. At one of these recent fires, a resident told him they were surprised to find the “smoke didn’t wake me up.”
That’s not how it works, he said. If you’re asleep, smoke detectors wake you up. Smoke just makes you sleep more deeply during the fire.