Some people never learn that Oxygen Tanks and Smoking Don’t Mix.
SHEFFIELD LAKE Cleveland, Ohio– Neighbors helped pull a badly burned 63-year-old woman from a house fire at 662 Sunset Ave., Sheffield Lake, yesterday afternoon, moments before an explosion blew out windows of the house and knocked a firefighter’s helmet off his head.
Fire officials said the explosion could have been caused by one of several oxygen tanks used by the homeowner, Betty Mielcarek, for a medical condition. Although the cause of the fire was not known last night, Mielcarek told emergency workers she was smoking at the time, according to Sheffield Lake fire Chief Mike Conrad.
Virgil Rader, a former volunteer firefighter, lives next door to Mielcarek. He called 911 at 2:08 p.m. after seeing smoke and flames shooting from the front bedroom windows of Mielcarek’s home, a 1,000-square-foot one-story house. Rader yelled ”Betty’s house is on fire!” to his wife Barbara, who hurried to her neighbor’s front door.
There, Barbara Rader found Mielcarek sitting on the floor inside the front door, pushing open the screen door, but unable to get out. Although Mielcarek’s son lives with her, he was not home at the time.
”She was exhausted and her feet were burned,” Barbara Rader said. At the same time, Sue Rolston, who lives across the street, was driving home for lunch from her job as a pre-kindergarten teacher at Leaps & Bounds Child Care in Avon.
”I saw flames shooting from the bedroom window,” Rolston said. She quickly stopped her car and ran to the front door.
”We screamed ‘we need help, we need help,’ but no one was around,” Barbara Rader said. So the women took matters into their own hands, helping Betty Mielcarek to her feet and, with Virgil Rader’s help, got her to the Rader’s heated garage.
Mielcarek rested in a chair in the garage until an ambulance crew arrived. The Raders said Mielcarek’s dog ran out at the same time. The dog and two pet cats were unaccounted for last night, and a pet bird died in the blaze, Conrad said.
Meanwhile, Sheffield Lake fire trucks had arrived at the burning home, and fire Lt. Tim Card was walking across the front yard to assess the situation.
”I stepped off the truck, and in less than 30 seconds, we heard the explosion,” Card said. ”It was loud, like a stick of dynamite.” Card estimates he was 15 to 20 feet from the home, and his helmet was knocked off, but he was not hurt. He said smoke was rolling out from under the eaves, while flames from the windows lapped the roof.
Mielcarek had third-degree burns on her feet and lower legs, according to Avon fire Lt. Brett Bruehler. Emergency workers wrapped her injuries in sterile bandages, gave her oxygen and took her to the Avon Emergency Care Center, where she was flown to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Bruehler said. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed Mielcarek was in the MetroHealth burn unit last night, but did not know her condition.