SOUTHFIELD (WXYZ) — On March 23, a fire broke out in the living room of Ladarrell Brown's Warren Manor apartment.
He and his four young children were able to escape the fire by climbing out of the first-floor window. Brown's eldest child, 8-year-old Laurii'ell, sustained burns to her arm and blistering to her face. She was in a top bunk.
That night, Brown and his four kids slept in a bedroom together. Out of habit, Brown made sure to close the bedroom door. That simple act was the key that saved their lives.
Experts say if the father had not closed the bedroom door, the fire would have had more oxygen to burn faster and hotter, robbing the family of precious minutes to get out.
According to UL's Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), closing doors helps to stop the rapid spread of fire as it creates a physical barrier that holds back smoke and toxic gases.
Their research also finds that a closed-door can make a temperature difference of 900 degrees in the event of a fire.
"It's going to keep smoke and gases out," retired Livonia Fire Captain John Smilnak said.
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According to the Bureau of Fire Services, in the first month of 2022, the number of people who died in a fire in Michigan rose 144% when compared to January of 2021.
"Even children who don't have significant burn injury can sometimes end up needing a ventilator for days or weeks and even months depending on the severity of lung injury," Dr. Andy Prout of the Children's Hospital's ICU unit said.
Dr. Prout said he just installed new smoke detectors in his home last week.
"I've seen just small accidents, wiring accidents, that sort of thing, that can cause really catastrophic problems if they're not detected," he said.
As of last Monday, nearly four dozen people have died in fires across Michigan this year.
The Michigan Fire Inspectors Society says, 31% of those victims were reported as disabled and 67% were between the ages of 40 and 79 years old.
According to Sehlmeyer, the most common factor in Michigan fatal fires is a non-working smoke alarm.
He adds that the top three causes of fires are smoking, using heating devices like space heaters, and cooking.
Retired Fire Caption John Smilnak says a careless cook is often the reason for a kitchen fire.
"Because they would start something, they forget about it, they get sidetracked and before you know it, the water would boil out of the rice, which means now that the rice is going to start burning, and before you know it, you've got a kitchen fire," he said.
Smilnak also urges people to avoid placing dish rags and oven mitts too close to a stove's burners. He also says when drying clothes people need to keep the lint trap clean.
"If it gets too hot, this stuff is easily burned and that's when you start having dryer fires and dryer fires are going to grow into a fire in a whole room," he said.
In the case of Wednesday's early morning fire that had Ladarrell Brown racing to help his children escape through a bedroom window, investigators said the fire started in a living room wall.
Warren's fire commissioner said they were looking at possible electrical problems as the cause.
When Action News spoke to Brown the day of the fire, he said he was unaware that keeping a bedroom door closed could buy extra time to escape a fire.
"I just shut it to be safe because, you know, this still is the hood to me. So, I like to shut my door and be safe and close it up in case anybody might come in. Intruders," he said. "And, two, just to keep my kids safe. I like to keep them in a closed indoor room with me."
Brown's daughter remains hospitalized. Relatives say she's improving.
Fire officials also said the fire detector in Brown's apartment was working properly. A working smoke alarm can reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by as much as 60%.
Additional home safety tips from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the Michigan Fire Marshal:
- Keep all exterior doors clear of snow and any items blocking them so you can get out fast in the event of an emergency.
- Make sure your home has multiple smoke alarms, including smoke alarms in each sleeping area and one on each level of your home. Many new smoke alarms can interconnect smoke alarms, so when one sounds all smoke alarms sound.
- Install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors on each level of your home to alert you of high levels of CO.
- For the deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing smoke alarms that use a flashing light or a bed shaker device to alert them of a fire emergency.
- Make sure every smoke alarm is tested monthly and replace 9-volt batteries in smoke alarms at least once per year.
- Never remove or disable smoke alarms.
- Close your bedroom doors when you sleep to separate yourself from fire, heat, and toxic smoke.
- Make sure kids and the elderly in your home are familiar with the sound of the smoke alarm.
- Have a home fire escape plan