Cause of fatal fire remains undetermined

Investigators list 3 possibilities in blaze that killed woman, 84

March 25, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

Howard County fire investigators have been unable to pinpoint the source of an accidental fire that took the life of an 84-year-old woman in a Columbia assisted-living facility last month.

Deputy Chief Kevin Simmons said that investigators are left with three possible causes of the Feb. 13 incident: a heating pad, telephone cord or a motorized chair that, with the push of button, would rise to help Miriam G. Rappoport stand.

"We've investigated this incident extensively and tried to narrow the source further, but we can't quite eliminate these three causes," Simmons said. "When you have a fire, there's a lot of evidence that goes up in flames."

Firefighters found Rappoport sitting in the chair and struggling to breathe after flames activated the smoke detector and sprinklers in her efficiency apartment at Sunrise Assisted Living on Freetown Road, next to Hickory Ridge Village Center. Staff members at the facility said heavy smoke prevented them from entering the apartment.

Rappoport suffered burns over 70 percent of her body and died the next day at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.

Simmons said that, at the time of the incident, firefighters were developing life-safety seminars for employees at assisted-living facilities. The department will hold its first training class Tuesday.

"We've always felt that this was an area where more education was needed," he said.

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