News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 5, 2014

Sullivan Daycare fire: Broken hearts

Body of 11⁄2-year-old toddler found in playpen; other children escape unhurt; Coroner rules smoke inhalation cause of death

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A 11⁄2-year-old girl tragically died early Tuesday morning as the result of a fire at Waterman’s Wonderland Daycare on Sullivan’s south side.

The cause of death was smoke inhalation, according to Jeff Griffith, Sullivan County coroner. The name of the child, whose body was found in a playpen, was not being released pending notification of family members.

The fire, which occurred in the 500 block of East Silver Street in Sullivan, was ruled accidental by the state fire marshal, said Sullivan Fire Chief Rob Robertson.

The day care facility, a modular-type structure located next to a residence, had baseboard heating, and officials believe something may have fallen on it to start the fire, Robertson said. A couch located close to the baseboard also caught fire.

Six children were inside when the fire broke out and two adults supervising them got five of them out uninjured, he said. “They went back to get the other child, but it was too late,” Robertson said.

“The room was fully involved.”

He said the children ranged in age from about 1-10 years old.

The fire chief said counseling would be provided for firefighters, who were shaken by the death of a child. “We’re trying to get through it the best we can,” he said.

The structure is “a total loss,” he said. Outside, swing sets remained standing and a brightly colored sign with stick figures and a bright yellow sun hung on a fence.

The child’s death marks the second fire-related fatality for Sullivan in less than a week. Last Thursday, 72-year-old Bruce Thompson died as the result of a fire at the Sunrise Towers housing complex, which serves mostly senior citizens and people with disabilities. He died from smoke inhalation.

“It’s been a tough week,” said Sullivan mayor Clint Lamb. “Right now, our hearts are broken for the family of the little girl that we lost” as well as for family members devastated by last week’s fire.

Lamb also expressed appreciation to the Sullivan city fire department and other agencies that assisted.

On Tuesday, three fire stations were dispatched to the daycare at 5:38 a.m. The Sullivan Fire Department, Thunderbird Fire Protection District in Farmersburg and the Carlisle-Haddon Fire Department all responded to the fire; the structure was fully involved when firefighters arrived, Robertson said. Five children were out of the burning day care, with one still inside. “It ended up being a recovery,” Robertson said.

Waterman’s Wonderland Daycare, operated by Christa Waterman, is licensed by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The facility has been a licensed child care home since 1994.

In addition to the state fire marshal, Child Protective Services — part of another state agency — also was investigating, said James Gavin, FSSA director of communications.

CPS is part of the state Department of Child Services.

The Waterman’s day care is a Class II child care home. Under its license, the owner could care for up to 16 children as long as appropriate staff-to-child ratios are maintained, Gavin said.

He noted that an FSSA local consultant is working with families who used Waterman’s day care to see if they need assistance finding other day care arrangements.

The day care didn’t appear to be in violation of any state regulations Tuesday, said Melanie Brizzi, FSSA bureau of child care director.

Child Protective Services is investigating because of the fatality, said James Wide, communications director for the state Department of Child Services. FSSA does licensing, but “if there is abuse, neglect or a  fatality, that’s how we get involved.”

The agencies work together, Wide said. “We share information because obviously our primary concern is the children and safety of those children.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.