MILWAUKEE — Firefighters are trying to honor Justin Williams, the 10-year-old boy who tragically died alongside his dog in a house fire on Milwaukee’s far northwest side Friday, April 23.
It’s hard to miss the balloons, stuffed animals, cards and flowers sitting outside the home on West Florist Avenue, near North 118th St.
On Thursday, TMJ4 was there when Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski hugged Justin’s mom, sister and grandparents outside the home.
They say Justin was a sweet boy, who loved Pokémon and animals. He had just returned to school at Neeskara Elementary. His funeral is Friday.
“When young lives are involved it's very difficult,” said Chief Lipski.
Justin's tragic death hits close to home for many parents.
“From the pictures I've seen, Justin reminds me of my son,” said an emotional Milwaukee Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd. “We all need to be there for this family as much as possible right now.”
Justin’s mother and sister were able to make it out of the house during the fire. His mother was treated at the hospital but is okay. Neighbors tried to help rescue Justin.
Chief Lipski says the family did everything right. They had working smoke detectors in the home. According to investigators, Justin had made it to the back door to get out, but couldn’t get the storm door unlocked.
“He went right for the exit he had available to him,” said Chief Lipski. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Lipski says firefighters did everything they could too, responding within minutes. Counseling is available to them.
“Everyone processes this kind of loss differently,” he said. “We all have different thresholds for anguish, loss, and the sense of failure some may feel.”
As a way to try and move forward, firefighters went door to door in the neighborhood handing out smoke alarms. They also took time to stress the importance that every family practice exit drills in your home, and plan out two different escape routes.
“Once you add smoke and the disorientation that comes with fear, it can be very difficult for people to respond accordingly to a plan they've never practiced,” said Chief Lipski. “Also, practice opening your windows, and opening or removing the screens inside of them, in case of emergency. You think that would be second nature, but it’s not. It’s important to practice for worst-case scenarios.”
Chief Lipski says you should check your smoke detectors frequently. Make sure they are working, and have updated batteries. Also, he says you should have a minimum of one on each floor of your home.
So far in 2021, six people have died in Milwaukee fires. Just one of those victims - Justin Williams - is a minor.
If you would like to help Justin’s family with funeral expenses, and to recover from the fire, there is a GoFundMe page set up for them here.
If you need a free smoke detector from the Milwaukee Fire Department, call 414-286-8980.