First responders deal with losses, trauma of fire that took lives of West Chester children

Nearly 50 people from area fire and police crews were on scene.

Trying to save four young children trapped in a fire was traumatic for the West Chester Twp. Fire Department, and it is even harder now that two children have died and the injured baby is clinging to life.

A fire broke out in a bedroom at the Meadow Ridge apartment complex Saturday and four children ages nine months to 6 years were found unresponsive in a second bedroom across the hall. The mother’s car wasn’t parked in its usual spot so neighbors were unaware anyone was home.

Fire Chief Rick Prinz said the fire had been burning for a while before they were called, they arrived on scene less than five minutes after they got the call and reached all four victims within eight minutes.

“It’s hard to say how long that fire was going,” Prinz told the Journal-News. “In my estimation based upon how I understand fire to behave, I think that fire was going for some time, longer than 10, 15 minutes, that’s for sure.”

Prinz said all four children were rescued and required life-saving measures. Two of the children were pronounced dead Tuesday. The baby remains in critical condition and will undergo a neurological exam soon, but Prinz said he wouldn’t be surprised if they waited a few days because of the inherent complications.

“We understood from them is that is a difficult task in itself because you’re trying to evaluate an infant, and then you’re trying to evaluate an infant that’s on a ventilator and on top of that you’re trying to evaluate an infant that’s sedated,” Prinz said. “So you’re trying to get a neuro exam with those three complications which is very, very, very difficult.”

The 6-year-old boy is expected to be released from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital soon. Hamilton County Coroner’s Office Chief Administrator Andrea Hatten told the Journal-News 4-year-old Bryson Brooks was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. and 2-year-old Alaiya Encarnacion succumbed to her injuries around 9 p.m.

Hatten said autopsies would be performed to determine the exact cause but reports wouldn’t be available for a few weeks.

Prinz said the mother arrived on the scene eight to 10 minutes after crews arrive to fight the fire. The West Chester police are investigating the incident and Barb Wilson, director of of public information and engagement said “in any investigation involving children, the police work with social/family services.”

Julie Gilbert, executive director of Butler County Job and Family Services, told the Journal-News she can neither “confirm or deny” her agency is now or has ever been involved with this family.

Children Services cases are generally filed with the Butler County Juvenile Court and Tim Myers, director of the Juvenile Justice Center, checked the names of the two children who died and “the two youth are not in our system anywhere.”

Prinz said about 21 of his people were on the scene and crews from Fairfield and Liberty townships. Sharonville and Springdale fire departments also responded, so about 47 people were on hand to help.

He said dealing with tragedies like this is never easy, “all in all our guys are doing pretty well, not to say they’re not struggling because they are, but we have mechanisms in place to help them cope.”

“It’s a significant blow to us in our department,” Prinz said. “We train and we train very hard to save lives and when we’re not able to save a life, especially in light of the recent news, it’s another blow to our department.”

He said his people can avail themselves of the peer counseling program, some other outside resources and they plan to have a pet counseling session next week. They have had the pet team in for an introduction but this will be the first therapeutic session. He said the dogs especially work wonders.

“They just lighten the mood, get people to open up, it’s really amazing what the do and how they do it,” Prinz said. “They’re just so loving and compassionate in their own way, and they’re able to just put that person that’s holding onto those feelings, it just gives them the ability to just transfer those feelings to the pet and the pet just washes away with them.”

While the fire/rescue scene was still active Prinz called Carmen Kuehn, a firefighter/paramedic on his staff who spearheaded a program about four years ago to help her peers deal with tough situations like these.

Kuehn said they spoke to everyone to at the scene and they followed up with some after. At first glance everybody seems to be alright, “it’s our job, it’s what we do and we just chuck it away as something we’ve done the best that we possibly could.”

She said now they are setting up debriefings to make sure everyone remains on an even keel, but when children are involved it has a lasting impact.

“When you have a baby that you have to do CPR on, that is always something that sticks with you for long periods of time,” Kuehn told the Journal-News. “It’s something you just have to learn to work through and realize that you didn’t put that child in that situation, and you did the best that you could. But yeah it sticks with most firemen for typically their career if not their life.”

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