Canadian Expat Escapes Death in High Rise Fire
Friday, May 19 2006 @ 07:39 PM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Everything happened very quickly after Johnathan discovered the fire. He ran into Terry's room yelling to wake him up, and closed the door behind him. They were on the 19th floor of a 20-story building, and the only exit from the apartment was through the living room. They were trapped in the back by the fire.
The fire happened on the 19th floor of the Don Manuel building in El Dorado, right across the street from the TGI Friday's restaurant.
Thinking quickly, Johnathan broke out the windows of the bedroom and started yelling for help. People in the area heard them yelling and called the fire department. For a few very tense minutes, the fire was raging in the living room, getting hotter all the time, and was spreading from the original source to other combustible materials in the room. The apartment filled with thick, black smoke, and both Terry and Johnathan fought to breathe. Johnathan helped Terry put on this artificial leg, and they did what they could to get low, avoid the smoke, and stay alive.
There are two apartments per floor in this building. Terry and Johnathan were in the back bedroom when Johnathan broke out the windows and called for help.
Eventually the fire department arrived. They broke down the front door, knocked down the fire, and rescued Terry and Johnathan. The fire damage was limited to the just one corner of the living room, but the rest of the apartment suffered smoke and water damage.
Marcos Santuro was working right across the street, cutting back the plants in front of the TGI Friday's restaurant. He was first alerted to the fire when he heard the glass hitting the street, and then Johnathan and Terry calling for help.
The point of origin was probably an overloaded electrical socket in the corner of the living room. There was a television, CD player, stereo, and other appliances all plugged into one socket through one of those six-hole multi-strip things. In looking at the burn pattern on the wall, there's little doubt about the point of origin. This fire was almost certainly caused by an electrical short circuit, overload, or failure of an electrical device.
The point of origin was in the corner of the living room, behind this area where there was a television, stereo, dvd player, radio, and other electrical devices all plugged in to one overloaded circuit.
Johnathan was in the bathroom for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, tops. When he went into the bathroom as far as he knew, everything was fine. The television was turned on but the volume was down, and the stereo was turned on and playing music.
This photo was taken from roughly the point of origin looking back into the apartment, the kitchen and visitor's bathroom. You can clearly see the smoke damage on the walls, but notice that nothing else is burned. Probably less than 3% of the flamable material in this apartment actually caught fire.
The fire probably started as a small smouldering fire which spread to the couch that was right next to the television. Once it got into some real fuel it took off. Soon the heat from the fire broke the window to the patio, and now with fuel and fresh air, it really started cooking. That was about the time that Johnathan heard the sound of breaking glass and other loud "explosions" coming from the area of the living room. He first thought it was the gas tank blowing up, but what he was really hearing was the sound of cement breaking off of the wall in the living room from the heat of the fire.
This is the window in the master bedroom where Johnathan broke out the glass and called for help. Terry and Johnathan stayed here until they were rescued.
Lessons Learned: Sometimes a "near miss" is the best way to learn, and the definition of wisdom is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. There were a lot of mistakes made in this fire, and every one of us should take a moment to reflect on this fire and to take a look at your own house or apartment. How many of these elements exist in your home?
- No Smoke Detector: There was no working smoke detector anywhere in the apartment. There is no doubt that a smoke detector would have alerted both Johnathan and Terry much sooner, and they would have been able to extinguish the fire when it was still very small, and before it was able to grow to a size where it was life-threatening and destructive.
- No Fire Extinguisher: There was no working fire extinguisher anywhere in the apartment. The thought crossed Johnathan's mind, that "if I had an extinguisher, then I might be able to put it out." But, with a hot and growing fire, heavy black smoke, no fire extinguisher, and having to take care of Terry, his options were reduced to zero.
- Only One Exit: This apartment only has one door. There simply is no back door or other way out, and when you're on the 19th floor you're too high to jump or climb, too high for fire rescue ladders, and too low for a parachute. The fire was roaring five feet away from the only exit, and going through the fire to get out was not an option. Again, no other choice than to pray for outside help.
- Overloaded Electrical Circuit: I'm guilty of this one, especially in my office. I'm making the same mistake as Terry right now, and as a result of this fire I'm making a pledge to myself to bring in an electrician to professionally upgrade the power supply to my office so that it's rated for the amount of energy that I'm using.
- No Fire Insurance: I went to the San Fernando hospital to visit Terry and Johnathan to see how they were recovering from their ordeal. Terry's first question was "who's going to pay for this?" Unfortunately, it does not look like either Terry or the apartment owner (he was renting) had fire insurance to protect the contents of his apartment. It looks like Terry is going to have to absorb the loss and pay for the cleanup himself. Would you like me to give you Kevin Bradley's telephone number now? His cell phone number is 6-674-1063. Tell him I said "Kevin Bradley - What a Guy!" He can get you covered quickly and easily. Don't go to bed without fire insurance coverage for the contents of your home or apartment.
This is the bed Terry was sleeping in when Johnathan woke him up and alerted him to the fire. This photo was taken from the window, looking back toward the door. Notice the smoke damage marked on the wall.
The only thing that really caught fire in this apartment was the sofa in the living room and the electrical equipment in the corner. That small amount of material generated enough heat to melt this air conditioner control that was mounted on the wall on the other side of the room. You can see the heat pattern that came down from the upper right-hand corner and went down to the left.
If you still need a reason to make sure you have a working smoke detector, remember this picture. This is smoke damage in the kitchen, and nothing burned in here. A smoke detector would have made this much less of an incident.
The heat and smoke was pouring into the kitchen from the living room through the open door. There was enough heat to melt the plastic handle on the kitchen cabinet door that was closest to the living room, but not enough to reach the other one that was about four inches away.
View of the patio from the living room. This picture practically draws an arrow, pointing at the point of origin of the fire (see next.)
You can see how the right corner of the chair was closer to the heat of the fire, and how the binoculars protected part of the seat cover from the heat that was coming from the right.
Terry looks worse off in this picture than he's actually doing. He suffered some smoke inhalation, scratches and cuts, but should recover fully. He asked me to tell his story so that others could learn from the experience.
Somebody should pin both a medal and a raise on Johnathan. There's no doubt that he took in more smoke, mainly because he was running around trying to do things like get Terry's artificial leg on. He suffered cuts and scratches from knocking out the windows, was coughing up large amounts of black soot while I was there, and had a deep cough with lung congestion from the heat and smoke. This guy's actions saved Terry's life, no doubt about it. If he had not been there and done what he did, then Terry would have probably never waken up and would have died in the fire. Nice to meet you, Johnathan. Well done.