Escaping a Fire While Handicapped

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

January 12, 2006

An Earlysville couple is safely back in their home this evening after fire crews rescued them from their burning home. One obstacle that made this difficult was the fact that the man involved is confined to a wheelchair. There are many challenges that handicapped individuals face during emergency situations..

"All of a sudden the fire flashed and it was like everything was on fire in there," said Beverly Blankenbeckler.

"Of course you worry [that] this might be it," said Dennis Blankenbeckler.

Early Thursday morning a fire broke out at the Blankenbeckler house in Earlysville.

It started as an electrical fire in the vent exhaust which dripped down to the toilet, bursting into flames, with Dennis lying only a few feet away.

"It was melting down the bathroom. I expected any minute for that thing to...start leaping into the bedroom," said Dennis.

When rescue workers arrived they tried to get everyone out of the house, but Dennis couldn't get out on his own. Beverly told the fire department she wouldn't leave without her husband.

Dennis Blankenbeckler has muscular dystrophy - as he lie helpless in bed, all they could do is wait for rescue crews to physically pick him up and bring him outside.

"I've always worried about that," said Dennis.

While they are very lucky that no one was hurt, the fire department feels they could have taken precautionary measures. For instance, letting the fire department know ahead of time that there is a handicap person in their home.

"I'm going to know that when I get there that's the first priority, I'm going to have my crews go in and render any additional assistance at that point in helping them exit the residence," said Captain Chris Garrison, of Albemarle Fire Rescue.

Also, get out immediately. Even though it's hard to leave a loved one, you could be putting your own life at risk.

In the wake of this fire, officials stress the importance of having an evacuation plan in place.

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