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Families Learn Lessons From Deadly Christmas Fire

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – It started solemnly, with a moment of silence Saturday morning at the Belltown Volunteer Fire Station in Stamford and seven other sites across Fairfield County.

But the fire awareness and prevention events to honor Lily Badger, 10, and twins Sarah and Grace Badger, 7, who died in the horrific Christmas Day fire with their grandparents, Pauline and Lomer Johnson, continued as children donned red fire hats and happily climbed onto fire trucks.

They kids also got to watch firefighters in full protective gear describe how they work.

“We put these fire education events together here in Stamford and across Fairfield County so we will never have to have a moment of silence for children like the Badger girls who died in a fire that could have been prevented,” said Medha Thomas, founder of CT-Moms Online, which sponsored the countywide program. The simultaneous events drew more than 1,100 people.

Thomas said she had spoken Saturday morning to Madonna Badger, mother of the girls who died and owner of the Shippan Point home demolished after the deadly fire.

“Madonna told me she was pleased we were having these fire awareness events today and wanted to say how much she supports them,” Thomas said.

David Choi, among more than 130 people at the Belltown station Saturday, said he brought his wife Hannah and 2-year-old son Henry because he wanted to learn more about fire safety. He experienced a close call in a dormitory fire while in college.

“I know from experience how fast a small fire can rapidly spread and become something far bigger,” said Choi of Stamford. Someone in his college dorm room threw cigarette ashes into a garbage can, igniting a fierce blaze, he said.

“We were lucky to get out alive, and now that I have a family and we have a fireplace in our home, I came to learn more about the best way to remove and put out embers in a fireplace.”

Choi said he was aware investigators determined the Christmas day fire was caused by fireplace embers that were put in a bag and placed in the rear of the house. Fire officials have also indicated the house had no working smoke alarms.

"We don’t want to make the same mistakes that led to the tragedy,” said Choi.

Belltown Fire Capt. Capt. Pete Cogliano said embers must be carefully removed with a fireplace kit and placed in a tin bucket with water. “After that, you want to place the bucket at least 25 feet away from the home or anything that can become flammable,” Cogliano said.

Both Cogliano and Fire Capt. Pete Kokkoris also emphasized the importance of having working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and knowing how to use them properly.

“So many fire tragedies can be prevented with simple but important fire prevention measures such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers,” Cogliano said.

Kokkoris added: “But you don’t want to fight a fire on your own. Once you use a fire extinguisher, get out of the house and call the fire department.”

After the fire safety session, a group of children and adults were treated to a demonstration by firefighters that included holding a working hose and climbing atop some fire trucks.

“We’re learning about fire safety, but he’s having a blast on the fire truck,” said Melissa Chamberlin, helping her 4-year-old son Dean climb up behind the steering wheel of a red fire truck.

“Wow,” said Dean, pretending to turn the steering wheel. “This is fun.”

As part of the countywide event, Elahi Children Yoga in Westport hosted a session at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, highlighting fire safety for children and adults with special needs.

“When it comes to fire safety in the home, families with special needs face a unique set of physical and emotional challenges,” said Elahi founder Kami Evans.

For more information, visit the CT-Moms Online website at www.ctmomsonline.com .

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