Firefighters investigate a fatal fire in this mobile home in Penfield, N.Y. Three people died in the fire, Louis Beach, Steven Smith and 8-year-old Tyler Doohan.(Photo: Jamie Germano, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle)
PENFIELD, N.Y. - Tyler J. Doohan knew he didn't have school Monday because of the holiday and asked his mother if it would be OK if he stayed at his grandfather's trailer here.
Tyler knew the place well. He stayed there frequently, playing with other kids in the neighborhood and having barbecues and bonfires with his family in the summer.
Firefighters found Tyler's body Monday morning in the back bedroom of that small, single-wide trailer, just a few feet away from the bed of his disabled Uncle Steve. Investigators believe Tyler was trying to save him.
Firefighters say Tyler, an 8-year-old who seemingly spent much of his young life in different homes and school districts, was killed along with his grandfather, Louis J. Beach, 57, and Steven D. Smith, 54, in a fire that appears to have been caused from an electrical problem at the front of the trailer.
And as Penfield firefighters - working their third trailer fire in a little more than a year - sorted through the rubble of melted toys and furniture charred beyond recognition, neighbors discussed the number of people who had taken up residence in a metal home that they say had been deemed unlivable more than once.
"The roof had collapsed on the front half of the trailer and one of the individuals was found there, probably on a couch, but there was nothing left to even see if it was furniture," Penfield Fire Chief Chris Ebmeyer said. "In the rear, there was a bedroom and the other deceased male was found in a bed. The child was a few feet way."
'Too many people'
Ebmeyer said the fire started about 4:45 a.m. and spread quickly as the trailer's nine occupants slept. Firefighters don't know if the trailer had a working fire alarm or smoke detector.
Tyler was able to wake six people. including two other children ages 4 and 6, all of whom escaped. Tyler died when he tried to help Smith, who uses a wheelchair and crutches because he was without part of a leg.
The relatives who escaped the fire, whom neighbors said included Tyler's grandmother, aunt and cousins, were taken to a hospital Strong Memorial Hospital with injuries that were not considered life threatening. One woman suffered second-degree burns as she helped others from the burning trailer, Ebmeyer said.
Ebmeyer said the casualties of the fire could have been much worse if not for Tyler's actions because so many people were staying in the home.
"He saved those other six people," he said, adding that he was unaware of the sleeping arrangements of the nine people in the trailer.
A dozen neighbors expressed a similar concern as they moved about the trailer community Monday morning, many still dressed in pajamas, drinking coffee and trying to find out what happened.
Some said Beach family members and officials of Morgan Management, which owns the park, had told them that the trailer had been deemed unlivable on at least one occasion. Beach had to replace the roof and the windows of the trailer within the past year.
They also said Louis Beach had been told too many people were living on the property.
"There was too many people, where would you put all those people?" said neighbor Michelle Brosseau, whose son, Dillinger, would occasionally play with Tyler in the summer, and who at times grew concerned enough about the number of people living in the trailer to consider calling county officials.
"Now, maybe, I wish I had called," she said.
Darren Button, manager of the mobile home, did not return a call for comment.
Ebmeyer said no occupancy restrictions govern trailers, and few fire regulations exist for trailers if they are privately owned.
"If it were a rental or an apartment building or a rented house, it would be under the guise of the Fire Marshal's Office regarding occupancy and inspections. But you can have 50 people living in your house. There's no limit," Ebmeyer said.
"People own these" trailers, Ebmeyer said. "Some of them are rented by the park. This one was owned. It's the same as if you own your home. I'm sure at the factory they were inspected, but after that, it's on the individual to maintain the trailer just as it is on the homeowner to maintain their home."
'Busy for trailer fires'
Monroe County has about 2,150 manufactured homes, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
One of the county's largest manufactured home communities is where the fatal fire occurred.
Ebmeyer said the Penfield fire district has had an unusually high number of problems with trailer fires lately, all accidental.
Once a trailer catches fire, the damage is often immense, he said.
"Trailers are constructed in a manner that keeps them light, very poorly insulated," he said. "Very few windows, small windows if there are windows. All the utilities are contained inside the trailer. There are no basements.
"It's essentially a metal box with flammable material inside, and once it gets hot enough it will all ignite," Ebmeyer said. "And once it gets started it burns quickly."
'Bravely and selflessly'
Part of the reason so many people were living in the home was because longtime resident Beach opened up his trailer to family members who needed a place to stay.
Tara DiMartino, a neighbor and family friend, said Beach's granddaughter, Connie, was one of the people in the home who was able to escape the fire. She, her boyfriend and their three children had been staying in the trailer temporarily while they "got back on their feet."
"They were trying to look for another place," said DiMartino, who knew Beach as "Grandpa" and Smith as "Uncle Steve."
Barbara Coffin, who has lived in the mobile home park for six years, described Beach as a nice man who helped people out all the time by clearing their driveways of snow or other home projects despite problems with his heart, back and hips.
"He'd go by and always talk to you and always help out people around here," she said. "He was a really nice guy, he just had too many people in there."
Neighbors described Tyler as an energetic and sometimes mischievous boy who liked to play kickball and tag.
"Tyler was always outside playing around, getting into things," DiMartino said. "He was only there on occasion. During the summer there was always a lot of cookouts and bonfires, and he was over there."
According to information from school officials from three different districts, Tyler's young education was replete with stops and starts.
Tyler was enrolled as a fourth-grader in the East Rochester Central School District where officials Monday called him a "hero."
"With great sadness, the East Rochester School District confirms one of the three victims of an early-morning fire in Penfield was a fourth-grade boy at our school," reads a news release from interim Superintendent Richard Stutzman Jr.
"It is extremely important to remember that according to emergency personnel, (Tyler) was the person who discovered the fire and tried to wake the eight other people in the residence at the time. In bravely and selflessly giving his own life, he was able to save the lives of six others - and he is truly a hero."