EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is the second in a three-day series about the number of area residents who died in building fires last year, and the challenges faced by fire departments, especially volunteer departments.
By EILEEN MCCLORY
Fire was roaring out of the Rainey home at 10331 W. Ohio 18, just east of Fostoria, last October when firefighters arrived.
It was bad enough that Mark DeVault, the Bascom Joint Fire District chief, put out a call for more firefighters as soon as he got there.
Firefighters were forbidden from entering the home to battle the blaze, as damage to the house made the structure dangerous. Instead, firefighters attempted to knock down the flames from the outside.
“Survivability, it — it was very obvious there would be none,” DeVault said of the home’s occupants.
He didn’t know until later that there were five people inside, one of whom was a Bascom Fire District cadet, 19-year-old Austin Rainey. Also perishing in the blaze were Austin’s father, Jim Rainey, his mother, Jodi Depinet-Rainey, brother Cody and sister Jessica.
Seneca County had a total of 17 fire deaths from 2010 through 2017, the most of seven area counties, an analysis of state data by The Courier shows.
Wood and Wyandot counties each had nine fire fatalities during that time span. Hancock County had six people die in the same time period.
Putnam and Hardin counties each had five fire deaths during the period.
Driving up the Seneca County numbers were two deadly fires that killed entire families.
In addition to the Rainey fire, five members of the Hamilton family died on Nov. 27, 2012, in a house fire at 13843 Township 124, near Republic.
Both homes were so badly damaged that investigators could not pinpoint the causes of the blazes, according to State Fire Marshal’s Office documents.
Tiffin Fire Chief Kevin Veletean said the number of fire deaths in a county fluctuates, depending on what time period is being looked at. In the past six to eight years, he said Seneca County has seen an increase in deaths.
He pointed out that fluctuations from year to year could mean that another nearby county’s fire deaths could rise and Seneca County’s fall.
To prevent deaths, he said, fire education matters.
“There are other ways to fight a fire other than physically fighting it,” Veletean said. “Education is one of those.”
The Tiffin and Fostoria Fire Departments are the only full-time paid fire departments in the county, he said. The rest are volunteer.
But volunteer fire departments undergo the same training as full-time ones, DeVault said.
In small communities, fire deaths become highly personal, not just to the families who lost loved ones, but to the surrounding communities.
Last November, Sue and Bob Rainey, the parents of Jim Rainey, had no idea how they were going to hold a funeral for five people and accommodate all those who wanted to come.
Hopewell-Loudon’s superintendent at the time, David Alvarado, offered them the gym at Hopewell-Loudon School in Bascom.
Five members of the clergy asked to participate in the funeral. Hundreds of people donated money to the Raineys and the Depinets and came to the funeral.
“The gym was full on both sides of the bleachers, and on the floor and out in the hall. And there had been a lot of people before the service,” Sue Rainey said.
There are still people who occasionally send them a card or some money, many months after the fire, Bob Rainey said.
The Raineys gave back, too. They used some of the donated money to set up scholarship funds and donated money to charities including the local Future Farmers of America, the Seneca County Opportunity Center, the Seneca County Junior Fair and others.
The community also reached out to the Bascom fire department. Members of the community donated meals and cookies, DeVault said. Later, smoke alarms were donated to the fire department and passed out to the community.
DeVault said it wasn’t ever clear if the Jim Rainey family had a working smoke alarm. He said he didn’t hear any alarms going off when he arrived on the scene.
No mention of smoke alarms was made in the State Fire Marshal’s Office report on the Rainey fire.
Sue and Bob Rainey own the plot of land where their family members died, but they aren’t sure what they want to do with it.
Their own house feels emptier these days, Sue said.
“When we finished this house, we said, ‘well, we’re not going to put any pictures on the walls,'” Bob Rainey said.
But photos and memorabilia of his grandchildren, son and daughter-in-law now line the dining and living rooms.
“And now, after the accident and everything, that’s all we got,” he said.
WEDNESDAY: Large areas of northwestern Ohio rely on volunteer fire departments to protect homes and property. Yet, many of those departments have trouble recruiting firefighters.
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