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Fri, 02/21/2020 - 07:29
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Smoking reported as cause; sprinklers prevent spread

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EXCELSIOR SPRINGS – The Missouri Fire Marshal’s Office revealed the cause of a deadly, one-room fire at Hotel Oaks, 117 South St., in downtown Excelsior Springs.

“The results of the investigation determined the fire was accidental and revealed the victim was a smoker. Careless use of smoking materials could not be eliminated as the probable cause of the fire,” based on information released by office Communications Director Mike O’Connell, Jefferson City.

The fire that occurred about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 claimed the life of hotel resident and lifelong educator Pearlie Jean VanDerbeek, 83.

Police reached the scene almost immediately, being less than a block away, Hotel Oaks resident Naomi Allen, 82, said.

“They quickly ran across (the street) to the apartment,” Tribble said.

“It came in as an automatic alarm,” Fire Chief Paul Tribble said, and firefighters responded.

The Excelsior Springs Fire Department incident report outlines what firefighters found: “Inside an apartment, they encountered an occupant on fire with significant burns to their body. Police officers removed the occupant as the building’s sprinkler system continued to extinguish the fire. The occupant was transported by an ESFD ambulance to a K.C. metro hospital with smoke inhalation and significant burns.”

The sprinkler rained water down on VanDerbeek, Tribble said. First responders got her out of the apartment.

“We got her to the hospital,” he said.

The burns proved too much for Kansas University Medical Center.

“She ended up, ultimately, dying,” Tribble said.

For other Hotel Oaks residents, the situation could have been worse if the fire had spread.

“Fortunately, the sprinkler system did its job. It kept the damage, basically, to the chair,” Tribble said. “Most of the damage to the apartment was water from the sprinkler and smoke.”

Allen said safety is an important feature for her at Hotel Oaks.

“Each room has a sprinkler system in it,” she said. “I’m so thankful to know that I’ve got sprinklers over me in case (fire) breaks out in more than one apartment.”

Tribble said his staff worked with Hotel Oaks to help in the fire’s aftermath.

The fire displaced three people for the night, he said.

“They kind of shared with other people’s apartments,” Tribble said.

Hotel Oaks staff declined comment on the death and related topics.

Firefighters from Kearney and Lawson fire protection districts responded with additional personnel while Excelsior Springs firefighters handled the fire. Ray County Ambulance District provided city coverage during the incident.

The death is the second by fire in the city in less than six months, Tribble said. A resident died in a fire Oct. 18 at 221 Virginia Road.

Allen said she is glad to live close to first responders.

“I was so pleased with our policemen and firemen. The police man was running to get to her apartment. Sorry…” Allen said, and began to tear up. “I’m very tender-hearted. …

“I just commend them all because it had to be hard.”

Residents knew and will miss VanDerbeek, Allen said.

“We’re very sad. We just think it’s horrible,” she said.