See all of our coverage of the Sullivan Family Fire.
CARMEL, N.Y. – The only survivor of a massive fire that claimed the lives of four members of his family escaped the blaze because his father shouted warnings to him to get out of the house.
Thomas Sullivan Jr., 20, was apparently awakened by his father, Thomas Sullivan, who was yelling that the house was on fire, Carmel Police Department Chief Michael Johnson said Tuesday afternoon.
"Tom Junior was able to crawl down the stairs and escape through the garage," Johnson said.
The younger Sullivan was transported to Danbury Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation. He was released Tuesday morning and is staying with relatives at this time. His father, 48-year-old Thomas Sullivan, a captain with the Larchmont Police Department, his mother, Donna Sullivan, 48, and his sisters Meaghan, 17, and Mairead, 15, were all killed in the fire.
Police are in the "infancy" stage of the investigation, Johnson said, and would not comment on where in the home the fire started, what a possible cause is or how it spread so quickly. Carmel police are being assisted in the investigation by New York State Police, the Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Putnam County Fire Investigation Team and the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Johnson said the house had little chance of remaining intact against such an intense fire.
"The house is a modern building,” he said, “with press board and metal joiners and the houses today that are built that way, when you have a fire like that, the metal joiners pop out and everything collapses," he said. "Although the house is well built, structurally it doesn't stand up to fire."
The home, which completely collapsed, was equipped with eight wired smoke detectors, Johnson said. He said no 911 call was made from the house.
The body of Thomas Sullivan was found on the rear deck of the house, Johnson said, adding that it looked like the veteran police officer tried to jump from a second story window of the house. An excavator provided by the Town of Carmel Highway Department and a cadaver dog were used to search for the other victims. In addition to Thomas Sullivan's body, two other family members were located in the back of the house. Police said they will continue to search for the last victim until 8 p.m. Tuesday and resume the search Wednesday morning, if necessary.
Police said autopsies will have to be performed to determine the identity of the victims and the cause of death.
Meaghan Sullivan was a senior and Mairead a freshman at Carmel High School. District officials said the school would have crisis teams on hand around the district.
Putnam County Executive Mary Ellen Odell, who knew the family personally, said the county suffered a "terrible, terrible loss."
"Tommy and Donna Sullivan were wonderful parents, they were very community driven, they loved their community, they gave everything that they could to their kids, to their family and to the community," she said. "Young Tommy Sullivan will have a very large family now surrounding him, to make sure he moves forward, knowing he is very much loved and cared for."
Larchmont Chief of Police John Poleway knew the senior Tom Sullivan for 18 years. He described him as an honest man dedicated to his family and his work.
"In law enforcement we do share a bond and a brotherhood, so regardless of the size of the department, any loss is tragic for us," Poleway said. "Certainly in our department, a loss of someone with Capt. Sullivan's caliber is devastating to us. We will pull together as a community, as a police department and move on."
A funeral for the family is expected to be held Saturday.