Family gives thanks for alarm

Fire Dept. uses occasion to publicize program that has given away 100,000 devices

March 14, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

Patty Lewis was fast asleep in her second-floor bedroom, so she never knew that the smoke alarm went off.

But her husband, Frank Lewis, heard the detector beep about 4 a.m. and smelled the house burning. He roused his wife and pushed her toward the window of their North Payson Street home.

"The smoke was everywhere," Patty Lewis recalled of the Feb. 1 fire. "It was the scariest thing that happened. I remember saying, `I don't want to die like this. I don't want to go like this.'"

The couple escaped down a Fire Department ladder. But Patty's 14 year-old son, Eric Davis, could not get out. Firefighters rescued him, but he is on life support at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The Lewises returned to their charred Formstone home yesterday for a news conference during which they thanked the Baltimore Fire Department for installing the smoke detector they said saved their lives. The department, which has been criticized in recent weeks over a botched live-training fire that claimed the life of a recruit, used the opportunity to discuss its popular smoke-detector giveaway program.

"We wanted to highlight the fact that our efforts are diligent and they do make a difference because there've been quite a number of lives that have been saved," said Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman.

About a dozen firefighters stood in front of the house, some holding smoke detectors. "The heroes you see standing behind you make this happen," said Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr.

The department has installed more than 100,000 smoke detectors since the program started in 1994, Cartwright said, adding that 70,000 were installed last year. The detectors are free; money comes from funds raised by firefighters and through donations.

Deputy Chief Theodore Saunders said that firefighters knock on doors in city neighborhoods and offer to install smoke detectors for free or check the batteries in existing ones. They also target neighborhoods hit by fatal fires.

Firefighters from Truck 18 installed smoke detectors in the Lewis house in June 2005, one upstairs and one downstairs.

But Frank Lewis did not think about it until someone lit a candle and didn't blow it out, sparking the fire.

The family is struggling to heal. The marks on Frank's face will fade with time, he said. Patty said that she cannot sleep at night; she said she is constantly reliving the fire.

She visits her son every day at the hospital. The doctors say they do not think that he will wake up from the coma, but she says that when she kisses him on the cheek he seems to respond.

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