A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
Last week, a terrible tragedy took place in our community.
A house fire claimed the lives of five people about five blocks from my home. Four of the five lived in the house and one—a 16-year-old girl—was visiting, supposedly helping a 9-year-old with school work. This week, they will all be buried.
Four of the victims were under age 20—2, 9, 16 and 20 years old. No matter their ages, this should not have happened in the middle of a Sunday afternoon in a place as sophisticated as New York City. Firefighters reported that there were no smoke detectors in the house or, if there were, they were in some way disabled.
When my daughter was younger, she always used to beg to do sleepovers at friends’ homes. I would always say “no” because I was worried about whether or not they had working smoke detectors and if their homes would in some other way potentially not be safe for my child.
This fire in Queens Village on April 23 broke out in the middle of the day. There were six people in the house and only one escaped. You grieve not only for the tragic five, but for the survivor as well. He may have escaped death by fire, but what he heard and saw will scar his heart for the rest of his life.
A few days after that fire, one of my kids was up using the toaster oven after the rest of our household had retired for the night. The toast burnt and the smoke alarms went haywire. We were awakened by the repeated electronic announcement: “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
It was upsetting that this young adult had just done something stupid and scared the daylights out of us. Conversely, it was reassuring to know that our alarms work. Nowadays, smoke detectors are combined with a carbon monoxide detector. But it serves no purpose if the batteries are dead. In order to get their detector to “shut up” when it reacts to smoking food, some people disable and forget to reconnect them.
You can’t do that. Just fan the smoke away, turn on the exhaust fan or open some windows. And we don’t even have to buy them. Firefighters are always giving them away at schools and special events. It is also a safe bet that if anyone ever stops at a firehouse to inquire, they’d give you one.
A fire death is probably the worst kind of death there is. No one, let alone children, should have to die that way. A working smoke detector or two might have spared all those young and precious lives. Reportedly, firefighters went up, down and around that block and neighborhood giving out smoke detectors the following day or so. If only this had happened before the fire.
But we can’t just wait to get a free one. Detectors can be found at Home Depot, Lowes and many other places and don’t cost much. People forget or neglect the simple things sometimes and we’re all guilty of that in some way or another. Our lives and those of our family and guests are worth the small invest-ment of a working smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
This fire was so bad that it leapt to an adjacent house divided by a driveway and caused excessive damage there as well. But the fire didn’t just gut the main house and severely damage the neighbor’s—it also gutted the community.
Our hearts are broken for the young lives lost and remaining family members coping with this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. The lesson from this devastating event is that life is fragile and any-thing any of us can do to keep ourselves safe, we should endeavor to do.
May these five young people rest in peace and their friends and loved ones take comfort in the good memories they have of them.