Disabled Woman, Mother Die In Fairfield House Fire

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FAIRFIELD — Maureen Gerrity dedicated her life to caring for her severely-disabled daughter, Katherine “Katie” O’Neill.

On Monday, they died together after being carried from the same bedroom of their burning house at 135 Crane St.

O’Neill, 19, had Angelman Syndrome and required constant care, said a woman who knows the family as she stared at the soot-stained house in disbelief. She behaved like a toddler, she said, and when she wasn’t in a wheelchair, she leaned heavily on her petite, 47-year-old mother.

The woman, who didn’t want to be identified, described O’Neill, a special education student at Fairfield Warde High School, as “a beautiful girl” who was “always smiling.” Her mother was “very sweet,” she said.

An investigation of the fire continues, although it was ruled accidental, said Assistant Fire Chief Christopher Tracy.

A neighbor up late watching T.V. saw the fire and called 911 shortly before 1 a.m., fire officials said. When firefighters arrived, fierce flames had burst through the picture window in the living room, where the fire is believed to have started.

The fire was raging when firefighters arrived, said Chief Richard Felner. “The flames were just so intense, they just couldn’t make headway,” he said.

A crew tried to knock the flames down while another group of firefighters searched for occupants, Tracy said.

The women were both found in a second-floor bedroom, Felner said. Ambulance crews performed CPR as the women were taken to the hospital, he said, but it was too late.

“It was tough,” Felner said. “The fellows did a good job. They made every effort possible to get them out. I think the fire might have just taken off.”

Tracy said it might have been smoldering for awhile before the heat broke the picture window glass and oxygen fed the flames. It took about 40 minutes to get the fire under control, he said.

A smoke detector was found in the basement, but fire investigators couldn’t find any on the other floors of the house, he said. They did find carbon monoxide detectors on the first and second floors, Tracy said.

The fire appears to have started in a couch or large chair near the front picture window, he said.

Neighbors reflected on their loss Monday. Gerrity was special, they said.

“I think she was a very hardworking mom, trying to take care of her daughter,” said one woman who walked her dog near the scene.

Donna Emond, who lives next door, said Gerrity was “a loving, dedicated mother who lived solely 

By Christine Dempsey, Hartford Courant


Firefighter Frank Zwierlein attacks a fire at 135 Crane Street Monday morning. (Courtesy of Fairfield Fire Department)

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