Surviving family of fire victims becomes fire prevention advocates

Cary Ashby • Oct 19, 2019 at 7:35 AM

Tricia Costanzo said she is on a mission to “make sure every house is a safe home.”

Her family’s lives changed forever in the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 2018. Her parents, Robert Griggs, 65, and Rebecca, 57, and Costanzo’s 27-year-old brother James died in a fire in their split-level home on Park Ridge Court off Valley Park Drive. The 9-1-1 call came in at 3:19 a.m.

The victims were found on the upper floor in their house. The fire originated on the first floor and was contained to the living room and kitchen.

“We were awakened to police pounding on our doors, notifying us that our father, mother and brother had been in a horrible house fire. It took just a few short moments for them to notify us that our family had not made it out of that fire,” said Costanzo, of Norwalk.

“That’s the same amount of time it takes for heavy smoke to fill up the lungs and render someone incapable of reaching safety in the event of a fire – just a few short moments. Will you be ready if that moment arrives?”

Authorities determined there were no working smoke detectors in the Griggs’ home.

Costanzo said her family “went to bed that night just like any other night — Dad and James sleeping soundly in their beds, Mom dozing on the couch watching some late-night TV.

“Sometime in the early morning a fire broke out, but there were zero working smoke detectors to alert them. Even though the fire burned hot and heavy, the fire marshal determined that, if alerted, they would have had plenty of time to get out and get to safety. But tragically, all three of them suffered severe smoke inhalation within moments and were unable to escape. Smoke detectors could have alerted them and saved three people from losing their lives,” added the Norwalk woman, who paused to collect herself during her presentation to Norwalk city council.

There were no working smoke detectors during two recent house fires in Norwalk — the incidents happening within five days of each other. The blazes caused significant damage and displaced both families, but there were no injuries.

“Smoke detectors are an early warning device,” acting fire Chief Rick Perry said. “I say this all the time, but smoke detectors save more lives than we do.”

There was $150,000 of property and contents damage at 42 Norwood Ave. during Sunday’s fire, which started in the attic.

Upon arrival, firefighters “found heavy fire conditions coming from the attic and all (the) occupants were out,” Capt. Aaron Lynch wrote in his report. The first crew at the scene opened up the second-floor ceilings to extinguish the blaze and soon were assisted by more firefighters.

An Oct. 10 fire at 86 Parsons St. caused $75,000 of contents and property damage. Firefighters found black smoke showing from the second-floor windows when they arrived.

Costanzo stressed the need for every home and residence to have working smoke detectors and for families to create and practice an escape plan.

“Most deadly house fires happen at night while you are sleeping. (A) fire doubles in size every 30 seconds and it only takes two minutes to succumb to smoke inhalation. Without smoke detectors to alert you, by the time you are aware of a fire, your time to escape to safety is already ticking away,” she said.

Perry said residents should check the batteries in their smoke detectors during daylight savings time and have their chimneys cleaned once a year. Regardless of many new detectors having batteries with a 10-year lifespan, the acting fire chief said it’s still important to check them regularly.

“They should be checked, if not changed,” Perry added.

Costanzo told council members and administrators she is turning her “tragedy into a mission.”

“It is our mission to make every home a safe home so that no one has to lose anyone they love to a home fire. October is Fire Prevention Month and we’d like you all to help us fight fire fatalities,” the Norwalk woman said.

Costanzo and her older brother, Rob Griggs, have attended Sound the Alarm events in Norwalk and Sandusky, First Friday with the Love Bus ministry and various football games. They handed out smoke detectors and gave talks.

“We challenge you all – even children and young adults, to go home and check your smoke detectors,” said Costanzo, who also encouraged residents to check the units in their relatives’ homes. “It is recommended you replace (them) every seven years to ensure they function properly.

“Not all heroes wear capes and we can all be heroes to a family member, loved one, or friend by giving them a fighting chance to escape in the event of a house fire,” she said. “You can, and we will make a difference one home at a time. Fire is everyone’s fight, so let’s all be heroes.”

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