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Fire deaths at VCU Health triple: 'Make sure your smoke alarms work'

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Posted at 11:15 AM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-29 11:51:19-04

WARNING: This story contains material graphic images some viewers may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
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RICHMOND, Va. -- As the sun came up on August 15, firefighter Bryan Bradley pulled up to a burning house on Richmond's Southside.

"There were people in the front yard telling us that two kids were upstairs," Bradley said.

Bradley and his partner ran into the house.

"As I went upstairs there was fire in the room that I was searching. As I was searching I felt my gloves shrink rap to my hands," Bradley said.

Minutes later, Bradley was outside the home in excruciating pain.

"It was the worst pain I've ever felt in my life," Bradley said. "There were third degree burns to both of my hands."

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"I was in the burn unit for nine days and had to get surgery because there was poor circulation to my right hand, so I got a graft taken from my right leg," Bradley said.

Thanks to the care he received at the Evan Haynes Burn Center at VCU Health, Bradley is on the mend — but two children ages four and nine-months, and their mom, died in that fire.

"We've all noticed in this region fire fatalities have gone up a lot," Bradley said.

In fact, data from VCU Health shows the number of deaths in their hospital from fires have more than tripled between 2020 and 2021.

Between January and August of 2020, fires caused two deaths at VCU Health.

In the same period this year, 14 deaths were due to house fires.

"Seems like a big contributing factor can be no working smoke alarms, and outdated smoke alarms," Bradley said.

But, why the sudden rise in fire deaths this year?

One of the physicians who treated Bradley, Dr. Mack Drake, said his team believes school closures related to COVID could be to blame.

"Most children learn about smoke detector safety while they are in school," Drake said. "You teach that to kids in school and they go home and ask their parents about changing their batteries or they ask if they have functional smoke detectors in their room."

He also said people spending more time at home during the pandemic may be a contributing factor.

"People were cooking at home when they hadn't cooked at home or ever. Children were at home, not in school, so we saw more children with burn injuries in the home," Drake said.

Both Drake and Bradley hope sharing this story will inspire people to come up with an escape plan and check their smoke alarms.

"When you don't have working smoke detectors, you don't get what is critical from those which is the early warning," Mack said.

"Use a broomstick, hit the button make sure they work, just please do that, cuz that could be the thing that saves your life," Bradley said

Drake said VCU Health has also seen an increase in the number of traumatic injuries related to fires because people are having to jump from second or third floor windows.

For more information about how to keep your family safe from fire, click on this link.