Blind Man’s Escape From Blaze A ‘Teachable Moment’

71-year-old Arko Ypma poses with his two granddaughters and his seeing eye dog Trooper at London Fire Station #1 on Horton St., January 27, 2017. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

A 71-year-old London man is sharing his story of a traumatic apartment fire that left his hands burnt in hopes of educating the public about the importance of fire safety.

Arko Ypma, who has been blind for decades, was vacuuming his Simcoe St. apartment December 28 when he smelled smoke.

“I didn’t realize there was a fire. I didn’t realize there was an open flame. But I felt the heat coming off my vacuum and so I proceeded to put it outside on the balcony to let it cool off,” said Ypma.

But what Ypma didn’t know was that the vacuum was on fire and dropping burning plastic onto flammable items inside his apartment as he carried it out. The smoke alarm inside his third-floor unit soon sounded, notifying Ypma of the danger.

As Ypma opened his front door yelling “fire”, his seeing eye dog Trooper sped out ahead of him and to the door of a neighbour. Using his tail to knock on the door, the 8-year-old German shepherd was able to get the attention of neighbour Pam Claveau.

Putting her own fears aside, Claveau was able to get Ypma to safety and stop the spread of the fire by closing the door to his unit, keeping the flames and thick smoke inside.

“I was in a fire when I was young and it brought back memories and then I said ‘Pam, you’ve got to stop. Calm down, you’ve got to find Arko.’ Then I went after Arko,” said Claveau. “He had to come to my voice, I called to him and said ‘please come.’ I took him to the door and told him to go downstairs. Then I went back and shut the door.”

According to fire officials, it was the action of shutting the apartment door that saved the rest of the 21 unit building and its tenants from a much more serious situation.

“Apartment buildings are designed to contain fires to the apartment unit. Unlike what you see on tv where you have mass evacuations, unless the fire is in your unit or impinging on your unit you shouldn’t evacuate the structure. You should remain in your unit in a safe place,” said Deputy Fire Chief Brian McLaughlin. “If the fire is in your apartment it is very very important that you get out, that you close the door once you’re out, and that you don’t go back in. There is no personal item in that apartment that is worth your life.”

McLaughlin stressed the incident serves as a reminder to people to have and practice escape plans in the event of a fire.

“Often times people don’t think about an emergency until one occurs and by then the anxiety levels are high so you’re wasting valuable time,” said McLaughlin. “If you have a home escape plan in place then you will just perform the actions and behaviors that you have practiced in the plan.”

At a news conference on Friday, Ypma’s daughter Suzanne presented the fire crew that responded to her father’s apartment with a painting she created for them.

Following the fire, Suzanne set up a GoFundMe page to help replace some of Ypma’s possessions, including specialized items for the blind, which were destroyed in the blaze. Donations have surpassed $6,000.

“I didn’t have content insurance, to my regret. However the internet community, the world wide web, is so supportive of me. Content insurance is so important, so important I’ll never again move without it,” said Ypma.

Severe burns to Ypma’s hands have been healing well since the fire. It is believed the functionality of his fingertips will be restored and with it his ability to read braille. Trooper was treated for smoke inhalation and is doing well.

Ypma, who has been staying with his daughter, will move into a temporary unit at the Simcoe St. building until repairs to his unit are completed.


Source: – Blind Man’s Escape From Blaze A ‘Teachable Moment’

January 28th, 2017|Categories: Post Incident Follow Up|Tags: |
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