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Fire safety stressed after Easter weekend fires

  • Thursday, May 1, 2014

Anita Crone/For South Strand News Fire destroyed a Calhoun Drive house and claimed two lives on Easter.

Easter week was not a good one for the Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District. Four people died from injuries in two separate structure fires — the first fire-related multifatalities in more than a decade.

Even more troubling is that the recent deaths may have been preventable.

John Long, 72, and Andy Hildebrandt, 56, both of Murrells Inlet died at the Augusta Burn Center in Georgia, as a result of injuries suffered in the fire at the Riverwood Condominiums on Lotus Court.

Joel Lamb Jr. of Timmonsville died April 21 of injuries he suffered after jumping out the window of the Calhoun Drive house. Melissa Lamb, 36, died at the scene.

While the investigation into both events is continuing, Gary Mocarski, the department’s longtime fire inspector, said that the smoke detector in the main living area of the condo had been removed, and investigators did not see a smoke detector in the master bedroom.

“Installing a sprinkler system in the condo and would certainly have given the people inside a bit more time to get out or maybe doused the flames entirely,” Mocarski said. He added that while sprinklers would not have extinguished the fire on Calhoun, they would have provided a bit of refuge for the people in the house. More importantly, there are some simple steps to take if you are visiting an unfamiliar location that may contribute to your safety.

“Check the fire alarm,” said Mocarski. “Push that button to make sure it works.”

He said that it’s a good idea to know the exit routes, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the residence.

Mocarski said it is important that you know the address of the place you’re staying.

“In case of an emergency, having an address to give to first responders can save precious minutes,” he said.

He also warned about golf carts — the batteries can explode. He said that fire retardant boards may help, but there’s no requirement to have them should replacement be needed. He credited the number of retirees in the area with contributing to the department’s safety record.

“Retirees are creatures of habit — these people are anal about checking their smoke detectors. They call me when it’s time to change the batteries in the smoke detectors,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling how their houses are just so, their attention to fire safety is impressive.”

If he had his druthers, he suggests that homeowners in multistory buildings purchase an escape ladder — “a chain ladder that you grab, open up and climb down.”

He said that the manufacturers recommend that the hardwired smoke detectors be replaced every 15 years or so.

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