St. Clair Shores police rescue woman from oxygen tank fire

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 2, 2020


ST. CLAIR SHORES — It’s usually firefighters who rush into a smoking building on fire, but not this time.

“A couple of our officers entered a house that was filled with smoke thanks to an oxygen tank that was catching fire before (the resident) was injured and pretty much saved her life from the smoke and the fire,” said Police Chief Todd Woodcox.

A call came into the dispatch center around 8:15 p.m. Sept. 26 about a house fire in the 23000 block of Allor Street. Fire Chief James Piper said the report was for a possible structure fire and an oxygen bottle on fire, with the occupant unable to get out of the house.

“Usually, (police) officers arrive at structure fires before the firefighters do and usually they do not go in, but the officers had solid information indicating that someone was trapped in the home, so without hesitation, they went right in the front door and located her,” Woodcox explained.

Because police are often in the area when a call comes in, they are sometimes able to get to a scene quicker, Piper said.

“There was smoke in the house, the lady was in her wheelchair and unable to leave. Police officers did go in and ... got her and her wheelchair outside,” he said. “It’s one of the best-case scenarios that we can hear — you get told, ‘house fire, person trapped,’ and you get there and no one’s trapped any longer and the fire basically put itself out.”

The 71-year-old resident was alone at the time and only sustained a small burn on her foot. The two police officers, Sadie Howell and John Deforest, did not sustain any injuries. They have each been with the St. Clair Shores Police Department for about three years.

The St. Clair Shores Fire Department was able to get the fire under control quickly and the home only sustained minor damage, but Woodcox said it could have been much worse.

“The oxygen tank could have blown, she could have inhaled too much smoke, she, herself, could have suffered much worse burns but they got her out,” he said.

Piper agreed.

The fire began in the nasal cannula of the woman’s oxygen tank because she was smoking, he said. Fortunately, it didn’t make its way entirely down the long piece of tubing connected to her oxygen tank, or the situation would have been much worse.

“That (tubing) tends to turn into a fuse and sometimes you’re fortunate and it hits something and it stops burning,” Piper said. “I believe God was definitely watching out for her that day because the fire managed to not get to the place where it caught her whole house on fire.”

Nevertheless, he said the home was filled with “a lot of nasty smoke” that would have been bad for her to breathe. The “brave officers” he said, “took a calculated risk to save a life.”

Woodcox said the officers’ bravery didn’t surprise him at all.

“That’s something any one of our officers would have done given the same circumstances,” he said.