Family safe but homeless after Friday fire

An early morning fire on Friday, Jan.19, left six members of the Morris family unharmed, but without a home, when their house at 32647 Omar Road was destroyed in the blaze. The Millville Fire Department was dispatched to the call at 3:03 a.m. and was first on the scene.
The occupants of the home, three adults and three children, were all able to escape without harm. And the Red Cross later arrived at the scene to assist the victims.

“We handle all structure fires in a basic manner,” said MVFC Second Assistant Chief Doug Scott. “[Our priorities are] extinguishment, which keeps it from getting any bigger, and performing a search. Even though we had a report that the people were out, we always try to do a search.”

Upon entry into the building, Millville EMT and firefighter Sean Humphreys noticed Jake — the family’s cat — lying on the floor, weak from smoke inhalation.

“He was making a little sound, but not much,” said Humphreys, who was without knowledge at the time of who or what was still inside the burning home. “We hadn’t seen the family, yet. That was right when we got there.

“We had no other patients, so I snatched him out, took him to the ambulance and gave him oxygen. With a cat, there were kids somewhere,” he said.

Humphreys added that he was familiar with the home and knew that children lived there.

“I took him back to the kids and they were ecstatic. Their mother said that’s all they were asking about the whole time. I have a cat myself, so I know how much that can mean to people.”

Firefighters were able to control the blaze in 37 minutes and confirm everyone’s safety. “We prepare ourselves the exact same every single time,” said Scott. “It’s pretty much textbook for us.”

“We’re always geared up for the worst,” added Humphreys. “If [everyone’s safe and accounted for], things start to relax a little bit. From the beginning, our priorities are to take care of all the things we need to: put the fire out, search. The ambulance goes right up with us, so if we do find people, there’s someone there to take care of them.”

Scott mentioned that he was pleased with the company’s quick response time in controlling the fire. “Thirty-seven minutes is pretty good,” he said. “[It gave us] enough time to knock down all the visible fire, cut a hole in the roof, get all the windows ventilated. A primary search is what we do initially, to find victims, and then a secondary search. That’s a little more methodical, a little more room-to-room, checking under things and moving things around. Those searches were all completed.”

Units from Millville Fire Company’s newly constructed substation on Omar Road were dispatched as well, aiding the company’s response time. Members of the Roxana, Dagsboro and Frankford fire companies all arrived to help control the fire.

Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Randall Lee said that the fire originated in the rear bedroom and was caused by an electrical malfunction of an extension cord serving an electric space heater. The home was not equipped with working smoke detectors, he noted. The damage caused by the fire was estimated around $40,000.

The Morris family is currently staying at a temporary location in Millsboro and searching for affordable housing.

One of the children was in Michelle Klinedinst’s kindergarten class at Lord Baltimore Elementary School. Since the fire, Klinedinst and her husband, Jim, have established the Morris Bailey Family Fund, a non-profit fund at the County Bank in Millville to accept monetary donations that are to be distributed directly to the family.

Lord Baltimore Elementary Principal Janet Hickman said food donations are being accepted at the school, as well.

“Our staff has swamped us with clothing and other items, but right now, the family doesn’t have anywhere to put them,” she said. “We are accepting any food items, though, that people wish to contribute.”

Hickman added that she is very pleased with the outcome so far.

“That’s the great thing about living in a small community,” she said, “Everyone is always willing to help and they’re very supportive.”

For more information about these donations, call County Bank of Millville at (302) 537-0900 and Lord Baltimore Elementary at (302) 537-2700.