Eastpointe captain: Rescuing kids from fire 'unobtainable goal'

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
A fire fighter uses a tool to expose this hot spot in the roof.

The incident commander at the scene of the Eastpointe house fire that killed three children has provided details into the difficult battle firefighters faced in rescuing them, saying it ultimately was an "unobtainable goal." 

Eastpointe fire captain Jeff Scheuer, who said he was the incident commander at the fire, explained the situation in a public Facebook post on Sunday, detailing what rescue workers attempted to do to save the children, ages 4, 8 and 9. 

"Upon our arrival we were met with thick heavy smoke conditions. Unable to gain access through the door due to extreme heat and smoke conditions, the decision was made to do a vent enter isolate search (VEIS) where firefighters enter a room that is believed to have trapped occupants in it through an outside window."

But when an Eastpointe lieutenant and firefighter entered through the bedroom window where they believed the children would be, conditions "rapidly deteriorated," Scheuer wrote. 

Eric Keiser, acting public safety director of Eastpointe Police Department, speaks to the press.

"After a quick search, conditions rapidly deteriorated and both the Lieutenant and firefighter had to jump back through the window, landing on the driveway just before the room was engulfed in flames."

The incident occurred around 5 a.m. Saturday on the 15000 block of Juliana Avenue, near East Eight Mile Road and Gratiot. The children had been left home alone when the fire started,  Eric Keiser, acting public safety director of Eastpointe Police Department, said Saturday.

Keiser said the children were found in an upstairs bedroom and were removed from the home. Two other children who were thought to be in the home were found at another house around the block. 

Eastpointe's public safety department was not providing any further information Sunday.

Three children's banks shaped like shoes sit on the front step of the home in Eastpointe where two young boys and a girl were killed in a house fire Saturday.

However, in his Facebook post, Schueuer elaborated that a second rescue attempt was made through the front door of the home, but the fire crew was stopped by a large hole felt in the floor and had to leave the house because of the excessive heat.

"At that time, with heavy fire and smoke conditions showing on the first and second floor the decision was made to go defensive and to extinguish the bulk of the fire from the outside."

He said rescuing the children ultimately proved to be "an unobtainable goal."

Scheuer said in addition to Eastpointe police and fire, crews from St. Clair Shores, Roseville, Warren, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Michigan State Police and Detroit arson and K-9 teams assisted at the scene. 

"First off I want to express on behalf of the Eastpointe Firefighters and assisting agencies, that we are sincerely sorry for the loss that the family has to endure," he wrote. "This is a tragic loss of life that I am sure is felt throughout the community, and we are truely (sic) sorry."

While the cause of the fire has not been determined, officials said the home didn’t have working smoke detectors. 

Brynn Guster, a spokeswoman for DTE Energy, said the utility received a call about the fire at the location at around 5:30 a.m. She said once the incident was under control, a crew went to the site to remove the service connection, as is standard procedure after a house fire. 

Whether the house had working electrical service at the time of the fire could not be determined, she said. 

At the remains of the home, the front porch had been turned into a makeshift memorial of heart- and star-shaped balloons, stuffed animals — including a large teddy bear — flowers, kind notes and plaques. One said “Family is God’s Masterpiece.”

A plaque sits on the front porch of an Eastpointe home where three young children were killed in a fire.

While the block was quiet Sunday, people sympathetic to the family would stop by, either just to observe the memorial or to add to it.

Next door neighbor Edward Spanski, 73, said he regularly saw his neighbor take the two boys to school. He saw the girl at the home as well. 

“I remember waking up and smelling smoke,” Spanski said.

He looked outside and saw his neighbor’s home “fully engulfed,” from the ground to the second floor, he said. Police arrived seconds later, followed shortly by firefighters.

That the children were left alone, Spanski said; is “the part I can’t wrap my head around.”