V.I. Fire Service honors 5-year-old girl who saved family from apartment fire
Published: July 25, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Fire Service on Tuesday formally recognized a 5-year-old girl who helped save her elderly relatives from a burning apartment earlier this month and used the occasion to reach out to other youth to follow her example.
On the evening of July 15, Tenicia Christopher was the first one in the Estate Thomas apartment she shared with her grandmother and great-grandmother to smell smoke. She alerted her grandmother and great-grandmother, then went next door to tell family member Henry Hodge. A great-aunt called the fire department.
Everyone was safely out of the building by the time firefighters arrived, V.I. Fire Service Assistant Director Daryl George said.
George helped arrange the ceremony for Tenicia, which she attended with her mother, Tamara Jackson, at the Fire Service's Crown Bay office. It began with a phone call from B.V.I. Chief Fire Officer Zebalon McLean.
"You are my hero," McLean said. "You are all of our hero."
V.I. Acting Fire Chief David Hodge presented Tenicia with a pin of honor, a plaque, a backpack filled with school supplies and a check from the building's landlord. Of the four apartments in the two-story complex, only the apartment that Tenicia had been living in was declared a total loss, according to George.
Tenicia, who said in the days following the fire that she was not afraid when the fire broke out, was more bashful Tuesday. Peeking out from behind her mother, she had few words for the room populated by Fire Service officials and news reporters.
Fire Inspector Larry Webbe said he and his fellow inspectors could not begin investigating the fire until the following day because it burned so hot. He said aluminum in the apartment had melted and concrete had fallen from the ceiling, signs that the fire topped 1,220 and 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.
Webbe said the ignition source was a power strip on the floor of the apartment. The official cause is being listed as accidental as there are only four possible classifications for cause - accidental, arson, natural and undetermined, he said. He said summer workers Kisho Gumbs and J'Koi Dowe, as well as Fire Marshal Leon Battiste, helped in the investigation.
Webbe and Deputy Inspector Ian Williams Jr. said Tenicia's composure and quick thinking is evidence of an ongoing push by the Fire Service to educate the public, and especially the youth, about what to do in case of a fire. Tenicia's example is even more important because the apartment did not have a smoke detector, Webbe said.
"Everything relied on this young child," Williams said. "She did the right thing and got good results."
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.