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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 10:03 pm

State deaths from home fires decline in '15

Jeff Wiehe | The Journal Gazette

When firefighters arrived, they did all they could. 

The pan left unattended on the stove led to flames reaching 20 feet through the roof, ripping through the Euclid Avenue home. Firefighters arrived and decided to perform a risky rescue maneuver: while some poured water into the engulfed home, others made their way through two bedrooms not yet ablaze to look for anyone who might be inside. 

It wasn’t until later that they found a 45-year-old woman’s body in an area of the home they could not get to because of the fire.  

This happened one early Saturday morning last summer. 

The death of Sheress T. Parker was the lone fatality caused by fire in Allen County and one of 73 in the state during 2015 – numbers that are declining, mainly due to efforts of first responders as well as firefighter training techniques and safety programs aimed at the public, fire officials said Wednesday. 

In 2014, fires caused 84 deaths in Indiana. 

"While we never want to see anyone injured or killed in a fire, we’re encouraged to see that fewer people were affected this year," Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson said in a statement. "We applaud the first responders throughout the state who have worked tirelessly, day and night, to not only protect those in danger, but also to better educate their communities on fire safety." 

Part of first responders’ ability to get to and rescue more people are the leaps and bounds brought on by technology during the past 20 years. 

Firefighters’ gear can withstand more heat than in the past. New equipment, such as thermal imaging cameras, allows them to search homes quickly and more thoroughly than in the past. 

"We’re able to get into fires and take more heat, which allows us to search areas faster," said Deputy Chief Adam O’Connor, a 20-year veteran with the Fort Wayne Fire Department.

"We’re able to save a lot of people."

During a recent fire at a north-side apartment complex, firefighters used thermal imaging cameras to find a trapped man who, two decades ago, likely never would have been found, O’Connor said. Because of the technology, the man was able to walk into a fire station shortly afterward to thank the firefighters who saved him. 

"It would’ve been a death," O’Connor said. 

O’Connor also touted the department’s programs at Safety Village, which teaches children what to do in a fire and reminds them that homes always need a working smoke alarm. This, O’Connor said, usually gets the kids to remind their parents of the need to always check smoke alarm batteries to make sure everything is in working order. 

The department also provides smoke alarms to those in need and who can’t afford one through a call to 311. The Home Depot recently donated 500 smoke detectors for the department to give to those in need in the community.

According to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the Red Cross has helped local fire departments across the state to install smoke detectors in Hoosier homes where needed. All told, more than 5,700 smoke detectors have been installed since October 2014 through those efforts.