Tyler Doohan died trying to rescue family.
PENFIELD, N.Y. -- Tyler J. Doohan knew he didn't have school Monday morning because of the holiday, and asked his mother if it would be OK if he stayed at his grandfather's trailer at the East Avenue Manufactured Home Community off Route 441 in Penfield.
It was a place Tyler knew well. He stayed there frequently, playing with other kids in the neighborhood and having barbecues and bonfires with his family in the summer.
It was in the back bedroom of that small, single-wide trailer at 39 Fondiller Ave. that firefighters found Tyler's body Monday morning, just a few feet away from the bed of his disabled Uncle Steve, who investigators believe Tyler was trying to save.
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 by 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'd taken up residence in a metal home which 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," said Penfield Fire Chief Chris Ebmeyer.
"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. It's unknown whether there was a working fire alarm in the home.
Tyler was able to wake six people — including two other children, ages 4 and 6 — who all escaped. It was when Tyler tried to help Smith, who uses a wheelchair and crutches because he was without part of a leg, that he was killed.
The relatives who escaped the fire, who neighbors said included Tyler's grandmother, aunt and cousins, were taken to 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, given the fact that 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 they had been told by Beach family members and officials of Morgan Management, which owns the park, 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) and that Louis Beach had been told there were too many people 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, community manager of East Avenue, did not return a call for comment.
Ebmeyer said there are no occupancy restrictions governing trailers, and few fire regulations on 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.
Regarding fire inspections: "People own these, some of them are rented by the park, this one was owned," Ebmeyer said. "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'
There are roughly 2,150 manufactured homes in Monroe County, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
One of the county's largest manufactured home communities is East Avenue, where the fatal fire occurred. That community, located north of Linden Avenue, is owned by Morgan Management of Perinton. It has about 220 lots, according to a map on the company's website.
Morgan Management also owns 125-lot Forest Lawn, located off Linden Avenue a half-mile west of the East Avenue community.
Separating the two is an even larger mobile-home community owned by Harper Homes.
Ebmeyer said the Penfield fire district has had an unusually high number of problems with trailer fires lately..
"We've had three working fully involved trailer fires in the last 13 months. It's been kind of busy for trailer fires for us in Penfield," he said. "I don't know why because we've gone many years without one. We used to have fires back, early on, maybe 15 to 20 years ago."
The causes of those fires have all been accidental, he said.
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; and once it gets started it burns quickly."
'Bravely and selflessly'
Part of the reason there were so many people 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 and 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 health 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," said DiMartino. "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.
For much of his time between kindergarten and second grade, Tyler was a student at Indian Landing School in the Penfield Central School District, according to a news release.
"A current Indian Landing student was also home at the time of the fire, but managed to escape and is expected to be OK," Superintendent Stephen Grimm said. Counselors will be available at the school Tuesday.
City School District spokesman Chip Partner said Tyler spent a few months of his first-grade year in 2010 at School 22 in northeast Rochester before leaving the district.
He enrolled in the city again in March of 2012 in second grade and attended School 43 on Lyell Avenue until May 2013, leaving before the school year ended, Partner said.
Tyler was currently enrolled as a fourth-grader in the East Rochester Central School District where officials on Monday called him a "hero" and said principals, psychologists, and other support staff were contacting the families of his classmates. Counseling and support will be available to all students and staff Tuesday.
"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."