Ohio Vacant Home Fire Policy Raises Questions

Jan. 14, 2009
In some cases it will stop fire crews from taking the offensive.


The foreclosure crisis is leaving thousands of abandoned and vacant homes in northeast Ohio neighborhoods, and if a fire breaks out in any of them, it can quickly turn into a death trap.

Now the Cleveland Heights fire department has created a new policy concerning fires at vacant homes, and it is triggering a debate, reported NewsChannel5 chief investigator Duane Pohlman.

Chief Kevin Mohr came up with a new procedure for fires at abandoned and vacant homes, which in some cases will stop fire crews from taking the offensive.

On Dec. 22, a fire erupted at a Cleveland Heights home. A neighbor reported that no one lives there, which triggered a call to follow the procedure for vacant homes.

But the house wasn't vacant. The body of 29-year-old Jason Harps was discovered after the fire was out.

Mohr said his new guidelines were not to blame. A minute before the vacant house policy was called out, the crew on scene gave the original report.

Flames were devouring the home and the chief said crews could not get in.

Pohlman: "Had you known that he was inside, would it have changed anything?"

Mohr: "We still could not have gotten in the building originally."

Pohlman: "Couldn't have saved him?"

Mohr: "No. No. I would suspect that the gentleman had already expired by the time we got there."

Cleveland and Parma don't have an official policy when it comes to abandoned or vacant homes.

Firefighters said if they know someone is inside they will still risk a lot to save a life.

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