New Brunswick

'I didn't do a single thing right,' says Rothesay man who lost home to fire

A Rothesay man who lost his home to fire is urging other families to learn from his mistakes.

Jake Palmer wants others to learn from his mistakes

A Rothesay man who lost his home to fire is urging other families to learn from his mistakes. 1:26

A Rothesay man who lost his home to fire is urging other families to learn from his mistakes.

"I didn't do a single thing right," Jake Palmer said outside the charred remains of the house that's been in his family since 1958.

"I was just lucky," he said, grateful he got out safely and no one was hurt.

Palmer said he didn't know the age of his smoke detectors, couldn't remember when the batteries had been changed, never practised an escape plan and didn't check his bedroom door to see if it was hot before he went out into the hallway and the choking smoke.

Jake Palmer says his Rothesay home, which has been in his family since 1958, is a total writeoff following the fire. (CBC)
"I made five or six really terrible mistakes that could have made things go terribly wrong," he said. 

"But everyone I talk to, makes at least one or two of them."

Palmer said that's why he agreed to talk about his experience and help the fire marshals make the most of a teachable moment.

In hindsight, he said, he's pretty sure one of his detectors was defective. 

And sheepishly, he admitted that the night of the fire, he turned one off. 

Jake Palmer believes one of his smoke detectors was defective and he took the batteries out of the other one the night of the fire. (CBC)
He said it was going off at around 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, but he thought the detector was just being overly sensitive to the fireplace insert and he removed the batteries.

"Who wants to hear that thing," he said.

Palmer said he later went to bed and then woke up at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 6 to what he thought was a wake-up alarm.

When he realized it was a second smoke detector, Palmer said, he left his bedroom without first checking the door. 

Then, because he didn't have a practised escape plan, he just headed downstairs into the hottest part of the house, where the smoke was so thick, he couldn't see.

Got disoriented in smoke

Jake Palmer's fireplace is one of the only things relatively intact after a fire ripped through his Rothesay home on Dec. 6. (CBC)
He said he became disoriented and almost lost his way but did manage to get outside and called 911 right away.

Now, Palmer said, he realizes he should have checked the door, should have realized it was hot and should have gone out the bedroom window, which led directly onto a roof.

Within six minutes of being called, the fire crews arrived. 

"He was actually very calm," said incident commander Michael Boyle, who found Palmer outside. 

Boyle said Palmer was able to answer his questions and made it clear there was nobody else in the house.  

Palmer said it was just a fluke that his young children weren't home that night. Palmer, who is divorced, has a five-year-old and a seven-year-old.

"I was supposed to have my kids," he said. That's the part that haunts him most.

Every second counts

New Brunswick fire marshal Douglas Brown said every home must have a smoke detector on every floor, but it's even better to have one in every bedroom.

"Your chances of survival are more than four times greater if you have a working smoke alarm," he said. "And that's just one working smoke alarm."

The Kennebecasis Valley Fire Department offers a free home inspection program.

Fire crews will check your detectors and help you plan an escape route and where your meeting place should be.

Boyle said every second counts because so many household materials are made of plastic theses days, and they burn faster. 

Palmer said the fire in his home was probably electrical, caused by an arcing wire in his basement.