Thursday, July 31, 2014

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Life-saving lesson learned from deadly fires

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TWC News: Life-saving lesson learned from deadly fires
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Austin firefighters returned to an East Austin neighborhood Thursday, the scene of a deadly fire that took the life of an elderly woman.

The blaze on Chico Street was one of two house fires that erupted Tuesday. The other one was across town on Wagon Bend Road and killed two boys.

Neither home had working smoke alarms.

Crews with the Austin Fire Department returned to walk the streets, distributing smoke detectors to neighbors.

Battalion Chief Palmer Buck says this is the first step to saving lives.

"We want to get inside their homes, talk to them about fire safety and make sure they're protected," he said.

Julius Rodriguez arrived home Tuesday morning to find his house burning and his grandmother missing.

"They're like, well, we have everybody out,” Rodriguez said. “We're trying to put out the fire. I was like, well, you know you're still missing one person, because there aren't only four. There's five."

95-year-old Josefina Rodriguez was the one left behind. She was paralyzed and battling cancer, according to her grandson.

It wasn't until later that firefighters found her body, tucked away and hidden under debris.

"It took them about another hour, an hour and a half, and they were like, 'Yeah, she's in there. She's deceased,'” Rodriguez said. “What more could we do?"

Firefighters say a smoke detector and an escape route might have made the difference.

That’s why they marched through the neighborhood armed with batteries, rather than hoses, to prevent fire danger.

Julius Rodriguez says he wishes he had worked harder to protect his grandmother, but now, he can honor her memory.

"Being 95, I think she saw the world and another one,” Rodriguez said. “She's probably in a better one now. It's a lot easier for her. She can take it easy."

Three other family members who lived with Julius Rodriguez remain hospitalized.

His father made it out safely.

The Austin Fire Department said they installed 100 smoke detectors Thursday afternoon—45 in the neighborhood around Chico and 55 in the Wagon Bend area, where the week's second deadly fire occurred.

AFD will install a smoke detector free of charge. Call their smoke detector hotline at (512) 974-0299 for more information.

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