On the morning of Nov. 10, 7-year-old Kyler Pacyga woke up early and sat at the kitchen table getting ready to eat breakfast. Her mother Kelly Pacyga usually ignites their fireplace to warm the home, but this morning the fireplace was unlit.
So when the second-grader smelled smoke, she knew something was wrong.
“She said, ‘Mom, I smell smoke,'” Kelly Pacyga said. “I went down to the basement and there were flames shooting out from underneath our dryer.”
She quickly woke her husband Greg who rushed to the basement to extinguish the flames. The fire department wasn’t called, but if the fire had not been discovered, Greg Pacyga said he fears the house could have been lost.
“The lint underneath the dryer had caught fire and there was clothing nearby that ignited,” he said. “It could have been really, really bad. She’s our hero. She saved us.”
Once the situation was over, the Pacyga’s discovered the battery in the downstairs smoke alarm was dead. The family went through the house checking all of their smoke alarms and decided not to take any chances.
“We’re going out and buying all new stuff, including fire extinguishers,” Greg Pacyga said.
At Field Stevenson Elementary where Kyler attends school, Principal Robert Giovannani said he recognized the incident as a learning opportunity.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” Giovannani said. “When I heard the story, I checked my own smoke alarms and found one that wasn’t working.”
Giovannani contacted the Forest Park Fire Department to recommend that Pacyga be recognized for her actions.
“I was kinda scared,” Kyler Pacyga said. “I know that if there’s a fire I should get out of the house and to tell someone. I just want to make sure people know to check their smoke detectors and batteries.”
According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, residential fires become more common during the winter months. However, Deputy Fire Chief Bob McDermott said in his experience, Forest Park isn’t following that trend. McDermott said he hasn’t noticed an increase in the number of fires in Forest Park during the winter, but did caution people to be careful with seasonal decorations.
“Candles are our concern, and there are more candles used at this time of year,” McDermott said.
The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that people check their smoke alarms twice a year when daylight-saving time begins and ends. They also note that some manufacturers recommend consumers replace smoke alarms every 10 years.
“Our lives are so busy that we can overlook these kinds of things,” Kelly Pacyga said. “We hope that the story has a ripple effect and others check their homes.”