MEDIA CONTACT: Diane V. Cunningham, Assistant to the PIO, 301-883-5222
On the morning of Monday, November 7, 2011, Robin McClain awoke to a chill in her home. She arose and went into her sister’s bedroom to put more wood on the smoldering embers in the fireplace. Upon entering the room, her sister told her she smelled smoke. Ms. McClain believed the smell was coming from the fireplace and expressed to her sister the same. However, her sister, described by Robin as having “a very keen nose,” was quite adamant that it was not coming from the fireplace but somewhere in the house. Because Robin neither saw nor smelled smoke, she did not give it anymore thought.
After placing more wood on the fire, Robin left her sister’s bedroom and proceeded to the kitchen and immediately noticed smoke emanating from the vent. Within a few seconds, the smoke alarm sounded. Knowing the layout of her home, she surmised the smoke had to be coming from the cellar. She wondered if perhaps damaged wiring might be the cause of the smoke. Arriving at the cellar, which could only be accessed from the outside, she opened the door and saw the flames. Robin shut the door and quickly ran back to the house to alert her sister and call 9-1-1. Her sister, who had initially smelled the smoke and then heard the smoke alarm alert, was already outside. By now, the flames were leaping up around the window at the front of the house.
Before that fateful morning, Robin McClain had lived in her home in Cheverly for 30 years without incidence. Twenty-six of those years she operated an in-home business, Sweet Bobbie’s Cake Creations. Robin is famous for her “nonfat, low cholesterol” cakes that are made without milk or butter. She even bakes vegan and gluten-free cake. Robin boasts of a sizeable clientele so loyal, some who have moved away to other states have their cakes shipped to them. When I arrived for our interview, there was a plate of different cake samples awaiting me. My order was placed before leaving her home.
During her 26 years in business, Ms. McClain accumulated a rather extensive collection of tools for her craft. Many of the items were purchased, some gifted, and a few likely passed down through her family. But, fire is neither a respecter of person nor property; and all in its wake will be destroyed—regardless of its value, sentimental or otherwise. Everything pertaining to her business and nearly all of her other possessions were lost as a result of smoke and fire damage. As terrible as that sounds, it could have been much worse.
Robin McClain’s first warning came from her sister, who smelled smoke. The smoke emanating from the kitchen vent and the simultaneous sounding of the smoke detector were her second warnings. No one can say with certainty if Robin and her family would have made it out of the home in time had the fire occurred during the night when the family was sleeping. It is certain, however, that their chances of escaping unharmed were significantly increased because there was a working smoking alarm in the home. Actually, the McClain’s chances were even better because the family had on numerous occasions discussed a plan of escape in the event of a fire at their residence. Each family member was well versed in the route they would take to get out of the house, as well as where they would meet to make sure every member was accounted for.
In appreciation of the Fire/EMS Department’s efforts to educate the community on the benefit of having a working smoke alarm in their home, Robin McClain visited the Chapel Oaks Fire/EMS Station 838 and personally donated 4 battery-operated smoke alarms. “I hope my donation will give one or two families a better chance for survival should they experience a home,” she said.
County residents may request a smoke alarm and have the life saving device installed in their home, free of charge, by calling, 301-864-SAFE (7233).