Local fire chief gives lifesaving tips after 2 fires kill 2 children, senior

Chief Gary Estep suggests practicing fire drills at home

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Two families are devastated after two fatal fires this week in which three people were killed, including two young children. A local fire chief who responded to one fire said the important thing to do is practice prevention.

Bexar County District 5 Chief Gary Estep responded to last week's South Bexar County fire on Morin Road. Eloy Mitchell, 6, and his 80-year-old grandmother, Mary Hernandez, never made it out.

RELATED: Family, friends gather to remember grandmother, grandson killed in house fire

"It's very difficult," Estep said, holding back tears."That night, 20 years of calls flashed back through my mind. Each and every time we have to deal with a death, it's very trying on us."

On Sunday, 6-year-old Nadine El Seik hid in a bathtub when her Northwest Side home caught fire. She died the next day at the hospital.

READ MORE: Father recalls daughter's final moments, effort to save her from house fire

"That's what they teach you in school. You go hide in the bathroom, in the bathtub, if something bad is happening. But this is fire. She didn't know any better," said P.J. El Seik, Nadine's father.

These tragedies keep Estep constantly dedicated to educating his community.

"You should have a fire escape drill, where everybody knows at least two ways out of every room. It's practiced with the children, where they know a meeting place outside where you know that everyone in your house is out and accounted for and the children have practiced this so much that it's second nature," Estep said.

With the smaller children, Estep recommends using positive commands. Sometimes when parents say things like, "Don't go back in," children only hear, "Go back in." So instead, Estep said to say something like, "Get out and stay out."

Estep was traumatized by this week's losses. Last October, it was almost his family injured.

"My wife and daughter woke up in the middle of the night by a working smoke detector. As our house burned, they were outside and survived with no injuries," he said. 

He knows everyone isn't as lucky but hopes by teaching he can help keep more people alive.

Estep teaches families about the following crucial fire prevention strategies, especially when cold weather rolls around:

  • Have heating systems/fireplace checked by professionals.

  • Don’t use outdoor heaters indoors.

  • Clear area at least three feet around space heaters. 

  • Don’t leave heaters unattended.

  • Have working smoke detectors. Check batteries twice a year and replace every 10 years.

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