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 Fire Lt. Dan Wecker, firefighter Matt Jones, firefighter Nate Lochrie, inspector Stan Barnes, firefighter Dennis Hubbard and senior firefighter Mike Rucinski pose as members of the Avengers during a 2019 school assembly.

Fire Lt. Dan Wecker, firefighter Matt Jones, firefighter Nate Lochrie, inspector Stan Barnes, firefighter Dennis Hubbard and senior firefighter Mike Rucinski pose as members of the Avengers during a 2019 school assembly.

Photo provided by the Farmington HIlls Fire Department

Family safely escapes fire at Echo Valley Apartments

School safety assembly credited with helping them escape

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published November 22, 2019

FARMINGTON HILLS — This fall, Farmington Hills firefighters have traveled to Farmington Public Schools’ elementary schools dressed as Avengers for their annual fire safety school assembly program. The message is that “not every hero wears a cape, so plan and practice your escape.”

Their hope through the program is to teach kids how to be heroes in their own lives and how to save themselves and others in the event of a fire.

On Nov. 14, that’s exactly what happened.

As two Farmington Hills firefighters and a fire engine were installing a smoke alarm for a resident across the street from the Echo Valley Apartments, near 12 Mile and Orchard Lake roads, they received a call at 4:22 p.m. and were dispatched to a fire in one of the apartment complex buildings.

Fire Marshal Jason Baloga said the firefighters at the resident’s house responded to the scene immediately. They entered the smoke-filled apartment and extinguished the fire quickly. The apartment occupant and her two children evacuated safely before firefighters arrived. No injuries were sustained.

“The big part here is that there were working smoke alarms in the building, and I believe a smoke alarm alerted the occupant of the fire,” Baloga said. “She also stated that she wouldn’t have known what to do without reviewing the sheet her son brought home. Because of that, she knew to leave immediately, go to her family’s meeting spot and call 911.”

All students who attended an assembly through their elementary school received a National Fire Protection Agency home fire escape plan and checklist. Overall, the Fire Department has reached 3,500 students in the district through the assemblies.

“It was pretty fantastic and one of the perfect scenarios, for a bad situation,” said Baloga. “Also, knowing the school program outreach made a difference in this was a huge success story for us. … It seemed like everything really came together to minimize the tragedy or damage in this scenario.”

Baloga said the department determined that the accidental fire was caused by combustibles in the kitchen being too close to operating cooking equipment.

“The fire was contained to the room of origin. It didn’t extend to any other parts of the building,” he said. “There’s charring in the kitchen and smoke damage in the apartment.”

A handful of other building occupants were evacuated during the fire, but because the blaze was extinguished so quickly, they all were able to return to their apartments shortly after. More residents would have been displaced for a longer period of time had the fire not been handled immediately, Baloga said.

According to a Fire Department press release, home fires have become more deadly and spread faster because materials used in newer home furniture burn faster and produce more toxic gases and smoke. Forty years ago, occupants may have had up to 17 minutes to evacuate. Now, that time has dropped to as little as three minutes.

The top three causes of home fires, the release states, are smoking, cooking and electrical problems. A majority, 63%, of home fires occur during the overnight hours, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Ultimately, Baloga said, one proven tactic is having working smoke alarms.

The Farmington Hills Fire Department offers a program to help residents install smoke alarms in their homes. To request the Fire Department’s help with installing smoke alarms in your home, call the department headquarters at (248) 871-2800.

To learn more about fire prevention techniques, call the Fire Prevention Division at (248) 871-2820.