WESTLAKE, Ohio (WJW) — An elderly woman is being treated for burns she suffered in a house fire early Friday morning, but authorities said she and seven relatives might not have survived the blaze if not for the quick actions of Westlake police officers.
It was just before 1 a.m. when 911 dispatchers received a frantic call from a member of the family.
“Please hurry. We have a fire in the house. Oh my God!” she told dispatchers.
Police were first to arrive at the scene of the blaze on Sperrys Forge Trail, and discovered that eight members of the extended family were still inside, including an 81-year-old woman who had suffered serious burns.
After learning there were oxygen tanks stored near a second-floor bedroom that was on fire, officers knew they had to move quickly to get everyone outside. Older members of the family did not seem to understand the danger they were facing.
“The concern is that the oxygen accelerates the fire quickly and we never know how much is there. Some of these patients that are chronic oxygen users can have numerous bottles of oxygen, all stored in a small space, a closet or a bedroom,” said Westlake Fire Chief Matt Moran. “Unfortunately, it is not all that uncommon for people to not fully grasp the nature of the emergency and just how dire it is once the house is catching on fire.”
Police body camera video shows the officers ushering members of the family out the front door and, in some cases, admonishing them for not obeying their orders.
Investigators said the fire was ignited by careless and dangerous smoking. They said the elderly burn victim was smoking a cigarette in her bedroom while using an oxygen tank and mask.
“Pure oxygen is obviously an accelerant to the fire, and having the nasal cannula on your face while smoking puts the oxygen right where the cigarette and fire is, and once it catches, the tubing will start on fire and it goes very fast,” said Moran.
Out of a sense of urgency because of the nature of the burns suffered by the 81-year-old victim, police officers decided to place her in a cruiser and take her immediately to University Hospitals’ St. John West Shore Medical Center. She was later flown to MetroHeath Medical Center in Cleveland, where she is being treated in the burn unit.
Fire investigators were concerned to learn that while there were smoke detectors in the house, the batteries were either not working or had been removed.
“If there had been another ignition source, some sort of electrical fire and everyone was asleep in that house, I think the outcome would have been much different,” said Moran.