By Ed Runyan
Loan T. Vang, 75, died in a basement fire Wednesday at her house at 949 Columbia Place SE despite the efforts of the Warren Fire Department.
Firefighters received the call at 11:53 a.m. and were at the scene three minutes later, pulling her from the house at 12:01 p.m.
A smoke alarm was sounding, neighbors said. That smoke alarm was in place because the Warren Fire Department installed it in her house earlier through its SALSA (Save A Life Smoke Alarm) program.
The department initiated SALSA in the summer of 2012 after two devastating house fires killed 10 people in Warren, including six children. Neither home was equipped with a working smoke detector.
Through SALSA, firefighters provided and installed hundreds of free smoke detectors.
“She was a really sweet old lady,” the next-door neighbor, Brooke Bowden, said of Vang, whom she’d known for eight years.
Vang, who was Vietnamese, lived alone in the two-story house off Youngstown Road near Laird Avenue and got help from neighbors to keep her home in shape, said John Onatz, the Warren animal-control officer, who knew her because of dog calls in the neighborhood.
Warren Fire Chief Ken Nussle said firefighters knew the home probably was occupied and entered the home soon after arriving.
A crew went to the second floor but didn’t find Vang. Another crew went to the basement, where the fire had started, and found her unresponsive.
It’s possible she heard the alarm and went to the basement to see what was wrong, Nussle said.
Firefighters performed CPR on her, and she was responsive in the ambulance but died later at the hospital.
Another neighbor, 17-year-old Zack Tenney, said he has nearly completed his training in Braceville Township to become a firefighter and made an initial attempt to enter the home to rescue her but turned back.
“It was so smoky, you couldn’t see your hand,” he said, adding that a neighbor who is a nurse urged him to get out of the house, so he turned back.
“We kept telling her she needed a cellphone and a medical alert,” Bowden said of Vang. But she was 96 percent blind and couldn’t dial a typical cellphone, so she didn’t have one, Bowden said.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting with the investigation.