'Gramps, I tried to save Ella': Toddler's brother helped prevent multiple deaths in Ohio Street fire

Ella Cain and her brother, Grady (Photo Courtesy of Sarah Ginster)
Posted: Jan. 3, 2012 8:53 pm Updated: Jan. 17, 2012 11:15 pm
Firefighter Justin Twaddle

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A Quincy family hopes a 15-month-old girl recovers from burns suffered in a Tuesday morning house fire at 303 Ohio, but they believe the actions of her 5-year-old brother may have prevented multiple deaths.

Ella Cain, a daughter of Elvis Cain and Sarah Ginster, was airlifted Tuesday morning from Quincy to St. John's Hospital in Springfield. She was listed in critical condition by hospital officials Wednesday morning. Family members say she suffered second- and third-degree burns on 50 percent of her body.

Ella's brother, Grady, left his second-story bedroom in the home about 6:15 a.m. and unsuccessfully tried to lift his sister out of her crib in an adjoining bedroom, where the fire originated. He then went downstairs and told his mother, who had fallen asleep on a downstairs couch, that he smelled smoke. Sarah Ginster tried to make it upstairs to rescue Ella but could not. She broke out windows in the main floor of the home to get herself and Grady out.

"(Grady) basically saved three lives today," Steve Eighinger, his grandfather, said. "Sarah said, ‘Without Grady doing what he did, none of us would have made it.' "

Eighinger, a Herald-Whig Staff Writer, said Ella had collapsed face-down in her crib from smoke inhalation, and many of the burns she suffered were on her back and the back of her legs. Grady also was hospitalized briefly for smoke inhalation.

"He looked up at me (from his hospital bed) and said: ‘Gramps, I tried to save Ella. Honest, I did,' " Eighinger said.

Elvis Cain, who is engaged to Sarah Ginster, was at work when the fire broke out. Eighinger said it is typical for Sarah to sleep downstairs on nights when Elvis works overnight.

When Lt. Eric Becks and firefighter Justin Twaddle arrived on the scene Tuesday morning, they were met by Robert Cain, the owner of the home and Ella's grandfather who lives next door. He had unsuccessfully tried to rescue the girl.

"When we pulled up, we could see orange flames visible in the second-floor window, and we knew from dispatch about the possibility of a baby," Becks said. "Typically, we would do a walk-around of the house, but in this instance, we went straight to the house."

Robert Cain said the side door to the home was locked, but the firefighters were told to enter the east side of the home, go upstairs and go to the left. Twaddle was the first to enter.

"The first floor was clear of smoke, and you could see just fine," Becks said. "As we went up the stairs ... there was zero visibility at the top of the stairs.

"As soon as we got to the top of the stairs, we were in the bedroom of the baby, and we went left like (the grandfather) told us to. Justin started along the left wall in the bedroom, and I started along the right wall. I didn't get more than a couple of feet, and Justin said something like, ‘Got it! Got it!' He was right on the crib.

"I'd say we were in the house for maybe a minute. The grandfather gave us great directions."

Becks said a heat-sensing camera was taken into the home, but the toddler was found before the firefighters even had a chance to scan the room.

The toddler was taken to a grassy spot outside the home near the fire engine, and Becks and Twaddle were prepared to give CPR. However, as they assessed the child, a pulse was found and she was breathing on her own.

"I didn't ever hear any noise from the baby," Becks said. "She was breathing but not crying, so they put some oxygen on her, and then the ambulance crew arrived."

Quincy Fire Chief Joe Henning said the cause of the fire was "definitely electrical in nature."

"One extension cord was plugged into another extension cord that was plugged into another one that was plugged into a power strip ... just a combination of cords, maybe a computer, speakers, a space heater," Henning said. "Just too much going on for the electrical cords."

A smoke detector was found upstairs, but a battery wasn't properly installed, and the detector downstairs never activated because there wasn't enough smoke.

Twaddle was burned on his ears, and Becks received what he termed "a minor burn" on his wrist.

Becks, who has been with the Quincy Fire Department for eight years, said he was about an hour away from wrapping up his 24-hour shift when the fire call came in. He said he's been sent to several house fires where it was believed someone might be inside.

"Usually, you find out they were at the mall or at a friend's house or something," he said. "This was the first time where it actually happened.

"It certainly tugs at your heart when you hear a child is involved. For me, I've got kids at home, and you think about that a little more. You realize that a life is precious, and you pay attention to those around you a little more."


How You Can Help

Needs for the Cain family after Tuesday's house fire are:
• Women's size 20 to 22 pants, XXL tops, size 10 shoes.
• Men's 36x30 pants, XL tops, size 9.5/10 shoes.
• Boys size 7 or 8 pants, size 8 tops,  size 1 shoes.
• Baby 24 months/2T, size 4 or 5 in diapers.
• Toiletries: any basic essentials.
Donations should be dropped off at WCI Technologies, 1258 Broadway. For more information, call 222-0045.


Lt. Eric Becks