Dutchess Woman Recounts Harrowing House Fire

POUGHKEEPSIE – Representatives from the American Red Cross of the Mid-Hudson Valley, Rebuilding Together Dutchess County and Poughkeepsie officials including Mayor Robert Rolison and Fire Chief Mark Johnson convened at the city’s Main Street firehouse recently to announce the success of their local Home Fire Campaign partnership. The two organizations along with the Poughkeepsie Fire Department have joined forces to deliver lifesaving resources to local residents, teaching them about fire prevention and installing free smoke alarms for those in need. In his remarks, Rolison said “these partnerships are saving lives.”
The mayor, who had served on the board of the American Red Cross at one time, described two incidents in which smoke detectors and fire safety training delivered by the Red Cross and Rebuilding Together resulted in the lives of seven people being saved in Poughkeepsie in 2017.

One of the success stories comes from a July 2017 fire on Fitchett Street in which five family members were able to escape the blaze due to the advance warning of the smoke detectors that had been installed just one week prior by the Red Cross.

Pamela Green-Smith, one of the fire’s five survivors was present to share her experience. The residence had recently undergone major renovations and the detectors were installed the week before. The day after the remodeling was considered done, a fire started in an upstairs bedroom. A mattress had caught fire and one of her sons attempted to take the burning bed down the stairs and out the door. That was a mistake. The son stumbled on the stairs and the mattress opened up, spreading the flames. Most of the family had evacuated due to the sounding of the alarms.

“The fire moved so fast,” said Green-Smith who declared that when her house is restored, there will be no smoking allowed in it. She continued by asking everyone to check the batteries in their detectors, replacing the device itself every ten years, and investing in a fireproof safe. “Keep your vital documents in a safe and don’t run back into a burning building to try and save things.”

Fire Chief Mark Johnson said of modern day fires “today’s combustible materials create such a toxic environment that you only have about two minutes to evacuate safely in the event of a fire.”

The chief stressed the need for early warning devices such as smoke detectors along with carbon monoxide detectors in all dwellings. The chief also said that in the event of a fire, people need to evacuate immediately and call 911 from a safe location. Do not attempt to extinguish the fire and do not re-enter the burning structure.

National Fire Prevention week begins on October 7th and Christine Boryk, executive director of Rebuilding Together Dutchess County said “home safety and fire preparedness has been part of our work since our founding and is a central component of our efforts to ensure that everyone has access to safe and healthy housing.” She said close to 100 percent of the homes they serve do not have adequate smoke detectors and many have none. Of the partnership with the Red Cross to rectify the problem Boryk said “together we are saving lives.”

Kelly Formoso, executive director of the American Red Cross of the Mid-Hudson Valley said volunteers respond to some 80 home fires a year in the region. “We know how devastating fires can be, especially when they result in tragic losses of life, and we are committed to doing all we can to put an end to such tragedies.”

She said with the help of partners like Rebuilding Together, they have installed more than 2,000 free smoke alarms across Dutchess, Ulster, Greene and Columbia counties to date, and saved at least seven lives in the City of Poughkeepsie.

Individuals seeking fire safety information are encouraged to visit their local firehouse. For information on the American Red Cross free smoke alarm program, visit www.soundthealarm.org/eny.

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