Irv and Cathy Bailey lost two grandchildren in a home fire on Christmas morning.
“Our smoke alarms worked, and the fire department was automatically summoned by our security system. Even with our alert systems working properly, we couldn’t save the boys. The experts tell us that there would have been no loss of life if we had fire sprinklers.”
Name: Irv Bailey
Date of fire: December 25, 2009
Age at time of fire: 68
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Injury: Lost two grandchildren, Solon and William
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December 24, 2009, was the start of what should have been a perfect holiday for Irv and Cathy Bailey. Their large suburban Louisville house was filled with visiting family. Their two sons, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, 12-year-old Solon and 10-year-old William "Liam," brightened their home with holiday joy.
Both boys were lively and athletic, enjoying soccer and other outdoor sports. Solon also had a passion for music and sat down at the piano that Christmas Eve to give his extended family a brief recital before bed.
In the early hours of Christmas morning, the noise of a smoke alarm roused Irv out of bed and down the hall to the kitchen, where he was startled by flames erupting in the adjacent dining room. Disoriented, Irv’s first impulse was to fight the fire himself. But as the flames got larger and began to spread, he quickly realized this wasn’t an option. From that point, Irv recalls little but chaos as he yelled for his wife and family.
Frantic and confused, Cathy got turned around numerous times trying to exit the home. Cathy recalls, "I went outside. We were screaming for the boys to get out. I went downstairs and busted open glass to get our youngest son out. He was lying in bed. I was watching him from the window, screaming for him to get up, and he did not hear. Finally, after I started breaking glass, he woke up and came around."
Meanwhile Irv and his other son, the father of the boys, were making frantic attempts to reach the children trapped upstairs.
“There was just an explosion of smoke that filled the house so quickly,” Irv says. “I would get halfway up the stairs and it was just too hot, and I couldn’t get to them.”
From the outside, you could hear the boys’ desperate cries. Irv recalls his daughter-in-law yelling helplessly back and forth with her sons.
Largely unaware that her hands and arms were bleeding from the broken glass, Cathy ran to the neighbor’s house to get more help. Meanwhile, the men brought a ladder and broke the window into the upstairs room. But by then, flames had rushed through the home so quickly that the oxygen from the window caused a flash over, engulfing the upstairs in more flames and leaving no chance to get to the boys.
When the fire department arrived, they couldn’t even attempt to go upstairs. The upper floors had collapsed into the basement and the house was destroyed.
Irv and Cathy Bailey were hospitalized due to smoke inhalation and abrasions and released from the hospital the next day. Three firefighters were also injured in the blaze. Solon and William died. The exact cause of the fire remains unknown.
But one thing is clear to Irv and Cathy – residential fire sprinklers would have made a life-saving difference.
In renovating their new home, Irv and Cathy are adding a fire sprinkler system.