PARMA, Ohio - In August 2012, a pair of brothers on Cleveland's East 42nd Street were sleeping when fire broke out in their home. One did not survive.
In January 2013, a mother and daughter in Akron perish in a house fire, also while sleeping. The story repeated again six months later on Cleveland's East 106th Street, when fire killed a man while he was sleeping.
"Everyone thinks it's never going to happen to me, but it can happen to any one of us at any given time and when it does, you don't have minutes - you have seconds to get ready," said Middleburg Heights Assistant Fire Chief John Desmarteau.
A fire. Smoke rising. Into the bedroom. Would you know how to react, how to escape?
With the help of local firefighters and a smoke machine, NewsChannel5 anchor Chris Flanagan's family demonstrated what everyone should know about getting out of a house fire alive. "What we're showing you tonight is how to escape from a fire, but you have no chance at all do that without smoke alarms," Desmarteau said.
"Those smoke alarms are the only thing that's going to wake you in the middle of the night. Your senses are diminished when you're sleeping and you need that sound that the smoke alarm creates to startle you awake and make you aware that there's a fire into the house to give you those seconds you need to get out," said Lt. Mike Girbino of the Mayfield Village Fire Department.
Using the smoke machine, firefighters filled the bedroom hallway. Flanagan's 11-year-old son, Matthew, was awakened by the alarm. He jumped out of bed and immediately headed for the door.
"You stick your head out there. There's clean, breathable air closer to the floor," Desmarteau pointed out. There is thick smoke at standing eye level, but down by the floor there was more breathable air. Matthew crawled on his hands and knees down the hallway and got out of the house safely.
Across the hallway in 9-year-old Molly's bedroom, the hallway escape plan was blocked by fire and smoke quickly came into the room underneath the door.
"So we're going to feel this door with the backside of our hands, and ouch, it's hot. We are going to to open the door. No, it's hot. There's fire on the other side. Now we crawl quick to the escape ladder underneath the bed," Desmarteau said.
Flanagan opened the blinds and window and dropped the ladder. Molly climbed out first. Flanagan immediately followed behind and climbed out to safety. They met up with Matthew at their pre-determined meeting place.
But the danger wasn't over. Inside the house, the fire had Flanagan's wife, Kristin, and his 3-year-old son, Quinn, trapped without a ladder.
"Grab something to throw under the door, like a towel or a blanket or a piece of clothing. That's going to buy you some time. Now you have to go to the window. That's your source of fresh air," Girbino said.
Experts say to stay calm, open or break out the window for fresh air and hang a sheet or blanket to let firefighters know where you are. Also, use a phone to help direct first responders.
"Remember to tell them exactly what type of help you need, where you're located. They may not know it. It may not pop up on the screen, depending where you live," Girbino told the family. Police and fire crews on their way will receive crucial information from dispatch before they even reach the scene.
When they arrived, they knew exactly where to find Kristin and Quinn. Quinn was handed out the window into the hands of a waiting firefighter. Kristin was right behind him. She made it out safely, too. The whole family was reunited at their designated gather spot, on the sidewalk out by the mailbox.
Desmarteau stressed that you can't just talk about it, you've got to live it.
"We've found that people resort back to training rather than panic in these kinds of situations. If they thought about in advance what they are going to do and that's why this is so critical to get this information out to the viewers of Northeast Ohio," he said.
This was information the Flanagan family didn't know.
"I feel a lot better, absolutely, because now I'll know. Hopefully the kids will think and we'll spring into action and do it the right way versus the wrong way," Kristin Flanagan said.