By Travis Gulbrandson
Officials are crediting hardwired smoke detectors with saving the life of a Vermillion man when a fire consumed most of his trailer Oct. 31.
The elderly man awoke shortly before 8 a.m. that day when the hardwired smoke detector in his bedroom went off.
“That’s a key thing, because if it wasn’t hardwired, it would not have woken him up,” said Vermillion fire chief Shannon Draper.
The man got out of bed in time to see the fire, at which point he was able to escape out a side door with one of his pet cats.
“Another few minutes, and he would not have been able to exit that trailer,” Draper said.
The man is a longtime renter of a trailer on the 400 block of north Plum Street. He has since been assisted by the Red Cross in finding temporary housing.
Trailers on both sides of the fire were evacuated because of the possibility of the fire spreading.
“On one, I would say the flames were lapping against the structure, but it didn’t cause any damage,” Draper said. “That was one of the first things the crews did, was to direct the streams (of water) toward the other (trailer) to prevent that.”
Vermillion firefighters from stations one and two, EMS and police all responded to the fire.
Draper said crews were hampered in their work in part because of the amount of things inside the trailer.
“Overhaul seemed to last a long time,” he said. “We had crews on-scene … for easily two hours or so, and it was really dealing with the amount of contents, because we had to get through all of the things to the bottom so we could get all the hot spots out.”
More than 75 percent of the trailer was damaged, and it is probably a loss, Draper said.
The fire’s cause appears to have been electrical, its starting point being a power strip into which some old extension cords were plugged.
“They were being used appropriately, but they were very old extension cords,” Draper said.
The fire chief added that the incident reinforces the importance of hardwired smoke detectors.
“When he woke up to the sound in his room … there was no smoke in his bedroom,” Draper said. “He didn’t hear the other ones going on at that time. Not until he opened the door to the bedroom did he notice and hear the other ones.”
Hardwired smoke detectors are a requirement for rental property owners, as per city codes.
“This is why we have it,” Draper said.