Lessons Learned from Orrington Fatal House Fire

Joy Hollowell

Updated 10 months ago

Sunday marked one year since a house fire in Orrington took the lives of a father and his three kids.

The tragedy left its mark on the community and beyond.

As Joy Hollowell tells us, the Orrington Fire Department has made it their mission to never let this happen again.

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“I’m sure fire fighters think about that fire every single day,” says Shellie Tourtillotte, public educator for the Orrington Fire Department. “But we also think about how we can make sure that it doesn’t happen to another family.”

Benjamin Johnson the Third and his three children were killed after their Orrington home caught fire last November 10th. Only Benjamin’s wife and the children’s mother, Christine Johnson, survived. Fire investigators called it the deadliest fire in Maine in nearly 20 years. They also said there were no working smoke detectors in the house.

“I had been going in the schools over the years,” explains Tourtillotte “And then after the fire, I realized we need to get out into the community more and try to teach everybody about fire safety.”

About a week after the fire, the department hosted a free family fire safety class. They also started giving away free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

“There’s statistics that in 1972, a family may have up to 11 minutes to get out of their home. Now in 2013, you have 2 and 1/2 minutes to get out of your home,” says Tourtillotte.

That’s because newer construction releases more toxic gasses if a home catches on fire, according to Tourtillotte.

“By the time you’re awakened without a working smoke detector, it’s almost too late to get out,” she says.

Besides working smoke detectors, having a working fire escape plan is also key, according to Tourtillotte. A fire doubles in size every minute.

“I know many families will tell me they’ve developed an escape plan,” says Tourtillotte, “but now my next questions is, have you practiced it?”

There should be two exits out of every room in a home, as well as a meeting place outside. And don’t forget to include your pets in that escape plan.

“You can teach your dog how to go when they hear the smoke alarm, they go to the door with you,” says Tourtillotte.

Making sure everyone in your home knows how to open windows and take the screens out is also key to getting out alive.

“Many kids have told me they were told to just break a window,” says Tourtillotte. “It’s a lot harder to break a window and then you have to dangers of the broken glass.”

These lessons are now being incorporated into recess time at Center Drive Elementary School in Orrington. Recently, public safety officials started participating in play time every Thursday, hoping the kids will feel comfortable enough to ask them questions.

“If this message gets out to anyone, anyone in the community, and actually helps somebody, actually saves somebody, it’s well worth it,” says Orrington Fire Chief Michael Spencer.


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