Fire Prevention Week Personal for Ohio Fire Chief

Two years ago, Sylvania Township Fire Chief Jeffrey Kowalski heard a call come over dispatch that every firefighter dreads.

The home of his daughter, Lisa Miller, was on fire and the second he heard the address he felt a sense of fear come over him that he had never previously felt after receiving a call.

The then-assistant chief, who had just been appointed to interim fire chief, rushed to the scene thinking the worst.

When he arrived, he was relieved to see that everyone had made it out safety.

"Seeing them in their car when I got there, it really took a lot of the anxiety out," he said. "We're at fires all the time and deal with families, but you don't realize how devastating it is until it happens to someone you know."

At the home at the time of the fire were Kowalski's daughter, her husband and their daughters Miranda and Gracie.

What he would soon find out was that what his first-grade granddaughter, Miranda, learned from firefighters in her classroom during Fire Prevention Week may have saved her life.

She heard the smoke detectors going off around 2 a.m., alerted her parents and crawled out to the meeting point they had established in their fire plan.

Gracie, who was about 4 years old at the time, was carried out by her parents.

The fire originated in the bedroom of Kowalski's grandson, who had luckily been staying at his house that night.

It was later determined that the fire started after substandard wiring fed to an outlet in the room by a previous homeowner caught fire after the boy's portable video game device he left charging overheated.

The Oct. 23, 2010 fire gutted the home and caused about $140,000 in damage.

The family lost everything and while it was almost considered a total loss, they were able to repair the house and were able to move back in about nine months later.

Following the blaze, Kowalski made a point to go around to all of his firefighters and officers and stressed the importance of fire prevention education.

"I think after I went around to the guys and talked to them and thanked them, they put more of an effort into it," he said, adding that the members of his department really care when it comes to prevention education and do a very good job at it.

He said that it's easy to get frustrated while speaking in front of groups of students at schools when the children appear to be disinterested or preoccupied and think that they aren't really listening.

"The main thing is that crews -- when they go out to teach these little kids -- it may seem like they aren't making a difference, but they are," he said. "If we can save at least one life, it's worth it."

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