As Milwaukee officials marked the 20th anniversary of the Survive Alive house designed to teach schoolchildren about fire safety, they also mourned the tragic death of a 7-year-old boy who died in a house fire over the weekend.
“It’s a reminder of how devastating a fire can be,” said Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing before a group of children from Greenfield Bilingual School, Mayor Tom Barrett and others. “What you learn here today can help you and your family be safe.”
During the news conference that marked the start of Fire Prevention Week, Rohlfing said the house where the fatal fire occurred had smoke detectors, but they didn’t have working batteries.
The 7-year-old boy killed in Saturday’s fire at a home in the 3200 block of N. 23rd St. was identified Monday as Joelle Creasy.
He’s the seventh person to die in a fire this year and the second child to die in a fire, according to fire officials.
In 2011, there were a total of 10 deaths, including one child, the department said.
Creasy’s aunt, Jennifer Smith of New York City, said in a telephone interview that the boy’s mother had gone to New York and that the two had planned to then go to Philadelphia on Saturday to celebrate a family event.
“The phone rang at 5 a.m. Saturday when she got the news,” Smith said. She said her sister, LaTameshia Brice, flew home to Milwaukee on Saturday.
On Friday, Joelle had celebrated his accomplishment of being recognized as student of the month at his school, Smith said.
“He was a very promising young man and enjoyed school,” Smith said.
She said two of the boy’s brothers, ages 5 and 8, also were at the home when the fire broke out. A family member, 25, who also lives in the home with his daughter, was at the home when the fire occurred, she said.
According to a report from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office, an adult relative was cooking food on the stove, went upstairs and fell asleep.
He woke up when he smelled something burning, the report said. He went downstairs, saw the fire, then ran back upstairs, gathered the children and proceeded to jump off the roof of the home to the ground, the report said. All but one child followed him, it said.
While on the ground, the adult relative noted sounds from a child who was unable to make it out, the report said.
Deputy Fire Chief Jack Christianson said the boy’s body was found on the second floor toward the front of the house. The other occupants who got out of the house went to another location, he said.
Christianson said it appears the fire originated on the first floor, but the origin is undetermined. The fire is under investigation, he said.
“The fire was very heavy,” he said. “Our first company attempted to enter the building, but they were forced back by the extreme fire conditions, so the fire had to be fought with streams of water towers from the outside,” he said.
The three-alarm fire extended to a house south of the burning building, he said. At least one person in the second house was alerted by a smoke detector and escaped, he said.
Smith said her sister and her family lost all their possessions in the fire. She said she’s starting a fund to assist the family and has started a website for victims of fire.
As is the case when a fatal fire occurs, Milwaukee firefighters from two companies went door-to-door Monday afternoon in the neighborhood of the fire to check to make sure homes have smoke detectors.
If a house does not have a smoke detector the Fire Department installs one and educates the residents on public safety, Rohlfing said.
The effort is part of the city’s Project FOCUS – Firefighters Out Creating Urban Safety.
The Survive Alive house opened in response to a series of house fires that occurred in 1987 when 35 people, including 18 children died, Rohlfing said. A Fire Prevention Task Force was appointed and raised money to buy the south side house and begin a fire prevention program for school children.
In the last 20 years 350,000 residents have been through the house and have taken part in the fire safety program, officials said.
Smoke detector help
If you need a smoke detector and live in Milwaukee you can have one installed for free by the city’s Fire Department. For information, call the Smoke Detector Hotline at (414) 286-8980.
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