The people got out safely, but firefighters charged into a smoke-filled house anyway, feeling their way through thick black smoke in a mid-day fire Friday.
The smoke was so thick, and so pervasive throughout the house, that firefighters called for every apparatus in the city to rush to the scene.
In that smoky darkness, they found the family’s three pets — two hamsters and a fish — and rushed them into the open air, to the joy of the children who waited for them.
Chief Michael Della Rocco said he couldn’t believe the pets made it out alive.
“The house is heavily charged with smoke, from the basement to the top of the house,” he said. “The hamster, the fish — it looks to be OK. It’s surprising because of the volume of smoke in the area.”
Firefighters believed an electrical fire started in the basement of the house at 3329 Kent Ave., but they are still investigating. It is not considered suspicious, Della Rocco said, and they contained the damage to a small area in the basement.
As fires went, it was a small one — there was little damage and no one was hurt. But to homeowner Darcy Hausler, it was unnerving.
It all happened in an instant, she said. She had been home with her two sons when the fire began.
“There was smoke coming out of the vents in the house. Black smoke,” she said.
She hurriedly left with sons Jaden, 13, and Elijah, 11. Their babysitter, who had just arrived to watch the boys while Hausler was at work, was rushed out the door.
“I’m glad it happened while I was here,” Hausler said. “I’m glad I was here. But now …”
She had called her husband at work, but the call went to voicemail.
She had grabbed her house phone as she ran out of the house. When she got outside, she tried to dial 911, but the phone didn’t work.
“So it may have gotten the electrical,” she said of the fire. “Luckily a neighbor was home. He called for me.”
As firefighters located the pets and brought them out, a dozen children from the neighborhood gathered to watch. They cheered when the second hamster was rescued, and circled around it eagerly to see if it had lived through its ordeal.
Firefighters turned the small fire into a teachable moment.
“You have a fire drill at school, why not a fire drill at home?” Lt. Thomas Dercole said as the children stared at the black smoke coming from the house. “Tonight I want you to go home and tell your parents about the fire. You see what can happen? Let’s have a fire drill at home!”
He also quizzed them on how to leave a burning house. One child immediately suggested jumping out a window, and Dercole suggested that the door would be a better choice.
“Let’s go real simple. Do we walk out, run out, or crawl?” he asked.
“Crawl!” the children shouted back.
“And you call 911 after leaving,” he said, stressing “after.”
He praised Jaden and Elijah, too. “You guys knew enough to leave the house,” he said.
Then he asked where they would have gone if they had been separated from their mother.
The neighboring children confessed that they didn’t have an agreed-upon place to meet in case of disaster.
“I want you all to do some homework for me,” Dercole said. “When we go home, I want you all to have a meeting place.”