An electrical problem in a garage refrigerator was the cause of an early morning blaze that destroyed a Rock House Road home. But a working smoke alarm awakened the homeowner and an adult son, enabling them to escape unharmed and call 911. 

That was the conclusion the Easton fire marshals reached following their investigation of the April 7 fire at 330 Rock House Road.

Fire Marshal Peter Neary and Deputy Fire Marshal Lucy Crossman advised the family’s insurance carrier of their findings. 

“We do have the cause and everybody got out safely and did the right thing,” Crossman said. “Nobody did anything wrong,”

The back wall of the garage was totally burned out. A ridge beam that came crashing down looks like a chunk of metal but was actually the refrigerator. — PHOTO COURTESY OF LUCY CROSSMAN

Although the house was a total loss, the smoke alarm saved the family’s lives, and lessons can be learned that can help other people. The number one lesson is to make sure all smoke detectors are in working order, she said. 

People should also check their appliances to make sure the wiring isn’t damaged or frayed. Many people store their old refrigerator in the garage and should check the electrical cord to make sure it isn’t damaged due to aging or to mice or other wild animals chewing on it. 

“Everybody has a lamp they have to wiggle to get it to turn on or a light fixture that doesn’t always turn right on,” she said. This could signal a potential problem that could cause a fire, she said.  

With people sheltering at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a perfect time for families to come up with a fire safety plan, Crossman said. It’s something she teaches Easton school children in her role as Firefighter Lucy, the town’s fire safety educator.

It’s a part time position she has been doing since 1991, six years after joining the Easton Fire Department as a firefighter in 1985.

“Families should designate a safe meeting place out in the yard and make sure everyone gets out of the house and knows where to meet,” she said. “It’s important to know who is out and who is safe. We so often hear of fires where parents get out and don’t see a child or their spouse and go running back inside.”

That can have deadly consequences that can be prevented if people know what to do. Parents can start teaching children from a young age to get out on their own and to know where to go. In the case of babies and toddlers, one parent should be designated to get them out.

“You need an actual plan for how everyone will get out of the house,” Crossman said. “This way you’ll know what to do if all of a sudden the smoke alarm starts going off at 2 in the morning.”

Another fire prevention measure she recommends is to close all bedroom doors. This way if a fire starts, the door will slow the fire and smoke from getting inside, allowing more time to get out through the window or by being rescued by firefighters.

Crossman cited the example of a Banks Road fire early in her career. No one was home, but someone had accidentally left a burner turned on, and a pan on the stove with grease in it caught fire.

A passer by saw flames coming out of a kitchen window and called 911. Firefighters arrived and quickly put out the fire. The house was full of smoke, but when they went upstairs they saw one bedroom door was closed.

They heard a meow and opened the door. The family cat came out, unharmed.

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By Nancy Doniger

Nancy Doniger worked as a journalist for three decades and was a founding editor of the nonprofit Easton Courier in partnership with the School of Communications, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University (SHU). She served two years as executive member and is now a contributing editing of the Easton Courier. She was a former managing editor of Hometown Publications and Hersam Acorn Newspapers covering Connecticut's Fairfield and New Haven counties. She was a correspondent for the Connecticut section of The New York Times from 1995 until the section was discontinued in 2006. Over the years she edited The Easton Courier, The Monroe Courier, The Bridgeport News and other community newspapers. She taught news editing as an adjunct professor at SHU and served as coordinator and member of the Community Assets Network for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools. She was a member of the Newtown Community Center Commission, member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), board member of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), and past president and board member of the Barnard Club of Connecticut. She has won awards for her writing from SPJ and NENPA.