Tragic fire claims life of toddler, mother and infant remain in serious condition

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By Natasha LaFayette

On Friday evening, LaFollette Firefighters who had responded to two dangerous fires in two days attended a chaplain service.  The severity of the blazes and the aftermath were the reasons for the service.

The firefighters that responded to the fatal fire at 803 West Cherry Street on Friday morning were not emotionally prepared to give CPR to all three victims in the house, said LaFollette Fire Chief Gary Byrd.

The crew responded immediately to the call, arriving at the LaFollette residence around 10:15 a.m. As firefighters began unraveling hoses and extinguishing the blaze they learned people were still inside.

“We were knocking down the fire when a neighbor warned one of the police officers about a mother and children inside the home,” said Byrd.

Two firefighters were quickly suited and went inside the smoldering house. All three of the victims were found around the same time.

“When we got there, there was no one around,” said Byrd. “We thought it was abandoned.”

Once inside the smoking house the firefighters found the mother, Crystal Schneider, and a six-month old infant, Cynthia, on the floor in the doorway of a back bedroom.

Jacob Schneider, 3, was found elevated on a bed in the room, said Byrd.

The three were wrapped in blankets and carried outside.

CPR was administered to all three but was unsuccessful for Jacob Schneider. He was taken to St. Mary’s where he was pronounced dead at around 10:40 a.m.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, Byrd said it appeared the fire started from a kerosene heater located in close proximity to a living room couch.

The fire was confined to the living room and Crystal Schneider and her children were about 10 feet from where it originated, said Byrd.

“Since they were on the floor that is why they probably survived,” said Byrd of the mother and daughter.

Jacob Schneider, found on the bed, was not severely burned but suffered massive amounts of smoke inhalation, said Byrd.

All three victims were unconscious as they were carried from the house. LifeStar flew the mother and infant to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. LaFollette Fire and Police Department were the first responders with three ambulances reporting to the scene as well.

The three victims were unmoving as they were wheeled to the ambulances on stretchers. Crystal Schnieder’s skin was gray because of the smoke in the house as Cynthia Schnieder’s head was marked with red burns.

The same firefighters who responded to the West Cherry Street fire also responded to a fire on East Chestnut two days earlier.

The victim in the earlier fire was Larry Welch, 58.

“It was the same crew to pull the man out as it was the family on Friday,” said Byrd. “It makes it twice as hard.”

Welch was flown to a burn center in Augusta, GA where he remains in critical condition.

Now almost a week later, questions circle about the condition of the house on West Cherry Street.

The family had been living in the house for about four months without running water or electricity, said Byrd. The LaFollette Rescue Squad sponsored the family over Christmas, collecting gifts for them and taking the gifts to the address on West Cherry.

William Rains is the last registered owner of the house, according to records in the property assessor’s office. He disconnected utility service in June of 2007 and had the meter removed in July 2008 for the purpose of rewiring the house, according to LaFollette Utility Director of Administrative Services Marlene Broadway.

The Schneiders had cancelled service at a previous residence in November 2008. There is no record of the family applying for service at the West Cherry Street house, said Broadway.

“I don’t know why someone would choose to stay in a place with no electricity or running water,” said Broadway.

LaFollette Police officers informed Schneider’s husband and daughter of the tragedy.

“All the police officers and the firefighters did a tremendous job,” said Byrd about the cooperation and compassion of the first responders.

As the tragic fire that claimed a young life stuns the community, City Administrator David Young said there is little the city can do if citizens do not report unsafe living conditions.

“The landlord should not be renting anything without electricity or water,” said Young. “This house was totally unsafe to be living in.”

Sanitary Conditions and Safe Conditions Codes are in place within the city and homeowners can be cited to court, said Young.

“If a complaint was made or if we had just known about it we could have gone and checked it out,” said Young.

Funeral services for Jacob Schneider will be held on Thursday at Grantsboro’s Cemetery. Donations for funeral expenses can be made to the Martin Wilson Funeral Home or American Trust Bank in LaFollette.