Fire victim credits smoke detector for saving family

Tamica Tharb says a smoke detector saved her family during a house fire.
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More than 30 Hoosiers have died in fires since December and investigators say some of them were easily preventable.

Tamica Tharb showed Eyewitness News the room where a fire forced her family out of their east side home. She says the home's smoke detector saved their lives.

"I would have lost my son and my daughter. When we came up to get my son, he was still asleep and the alarm was going off," Tharb said.

Indianapolis firefighters arrived and quickly put out the second floor flames that damaged two upstairs bedrooms, the main second-floor hallway and part of the upstairs bathroom. Their home sustained a lot of smoke damage, not to mention damage from the force of the water used by fire crews to save their home. Almost a month later, work crews are replacing the drywall, ceiling and floors.

Tharb suspects the fire started with wiring inside one of the walls in her son's bedroom.

But during that traumatic night, while running for their lives, Tamica says she couldn't stop thinking "What if the smoke overtakes them?"

"That was going through my mind. 'Where is the fire?' But all it was was a whole bunch of smoke," Tharb said.

But that's just one of many Indiana families who have experienced fire this winter. In Memphis, Indiana a family credits their smoke detector for alerting them to their house on fire in the middle of the night.

Fire investigators in Fountain County have yet to find evidence of a working smoke detector where two small children and their father died in a house fire. Fountain County Fire Chief Ed O'Farrell said, "I will listen to the father's 911 call to see if noise heard by a dispatcher is that of a smoke detector going off."

Indianapolis firefighters often go door-to-door offering free smoke detectors, but even that's not enough.

"Ultimately, it is their responsibility to get that smoke detector in their house and not only put it in their house, but to install it and make sure it's working properly at all times," said IFD Capt. Rita Burris.

IFD relies heavily on donations from companies like State Farm Insurance, which helps fund the cost of smoke detectors. The fire department also receives donations for batteries used in the smoke detectors.

Their free smoke detector campaign usually runs in October to coincide with Fire Prevention Month. Firefighters often find that even though some homes have smoke detectors, sometimes they are not working properly or the batteries have been removed or disconnected.

Fire officials say families should have a minimum of one smoke alarm on every level of their home. But ideally, it is safer to have one in each room.

They also urge you to have family fire drills, making note of where and how to exit along with a meeting place once outside. No one should ever re-enter a burning structure. Firefighters also stress it is also important to instruct family members to crawl out of a fire to avoid smoke inhalation.

Families that can't afford to purchase a smoke detector are eligible for a free unit at most local fire stations. A working smoke detector, according to firefighters, will double your chance of survival. Fire officials say Indiana's biannual time change is a good time to check your smoke detector battery.

After their own close call, Tamica and her family know first hand what sound could double your chances of surviving a fire.

"It could be a fire in your wall and you don't know," she said.