House fires are becoming more dangerous due to new materials in buildings and furniture. KSDK
"Fire! We've got a fire in the basement," a woman said.
It only took about four minutes for a crew of Kansas City, Mo. fire fighters to reach the suburban home, but the fire was already ahead of them.
"It was hot," Cashen said about the blaze. Then he learned that 31-year-old Susan Herrera was still trapped inside. So Cashen raced in where few would go.
"I saw flames completely engulfing a door I'd just walked through," he recalled. "That's when I knew I was in a bad way." Now, the rescuer needed rescuing.
Today, firefights are a race where the rules have changed.
"They're more dangerous in a shorter time frame," said Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Rick Ennis.
Ennis is sounding the alarm about a new breed of house fire. He shows a test video to make his point. In a room with decades old furniture, a fire is started. Here, it takes nearly 30 minutes for the room to fully burn.
But in a room with typical, modern furnishings, the "flash point" is reached in just over three minutes, engulfing everything in flames. His conclusion: "Residents don't have the time to escape like they used to." He says it's because newer homes often have a deadly combination of lightweight construction, open floor plans that feed a fire oxygen, and furnishings that are made with petroleum. The result is fires that burn 10 times faster.
"In reality, no (we do not have time to get there)," Ennis said. "Because the national standards are a response time of 4 to 5 minutes."
But Ennis says there's a solution: fire sprinklers. The 100-year-old technology has been traditionally required in commercial and apartment buildings, but not in homes.
"We really need to look at fire sprinklers as an improved process of fire suppression," the fire chief said.
In fact, Ennis is a part of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition, a group that educates the public and has lobbied for sprinklers becoming mandatory standard equipment in newly-built homes. The organization is part of a grassroots movement of similar organizations in the U.S. that first had major success in communities in California and Maryland. However, in many other states, the movement has had recent defeats.
The home building industry has generally opposed rules or laws requiring sprinklers in homes. To that end, they've adopted a tactic used by the tobacco industry known as "pre-emption" according to public health researchers and experts.
Missouri was a battleground for this as fire safety experts worked at the local level to get the safety device as mandatory in new homes, "the builders" lobbied above them at the state legislature. The result was a law that stops any community in Missouri from passing a statute requiring fire sprinklers in new homes.
So why are they opposed the safety device? A representative of the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri told KSDK, in a word, their concern is "economics."
"If a residential code required home builders to put in residential fire sprinklers," said Emily Wineland. "That would create difficulties for some people being able to afford that home."
Eureka Fire Chief Greg Brown also attended our interview with Wineland and he agrees with her.
"I think overall that people are tired of government telling them what they need to do and what they need to have in their lives," said Brown.
So what about the firefighters?
"Yes it would be safer on our fire fighters," Brown said. But he doesn't think they should require it. "I think again, whenever you put that requirement in, there's a lot of things that you could say 'This should be required. That should be required."
Fire Marshal Roger Herin, president of the Metropolitan Fire Marshals Association, seemed to have a different take on things.
"We lose almost 3,000 people every year to home fires." Herin said. "That's the same amount we lost in 9/11. That happens every year in home fires." He would like to see sprinklers become mandatory, but is not optimistic. "Yeah, I would like to see that, but I don't think it'll ever happen in my lifetime."
Which brings us back to Captain Charley Cashen. Surrounded by flames in a home that had no sprinklers, he escaped by running through a wall of fire to the cold outside and freedom. However, he suffered second-degree burns that landed him in the hospital.
The woman he tried to rescue, 31-year-old Susan Herrera, died in the fire.