CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — Police are investigating after a Cumberland woman died in an incident involving a backyard fire pit.
Cumberland Police Chief Matthew Benson said first responders rushed to a home on Mayflower Drive Monday night for reports of a death involving a fire pit.
Benson said the victim, identified as 60-year-old Deborah Engels, died “…as a result of injuries sustained from an accident with a working backyard fire pit.”
The exact cause of Engels’ death remains unknown at this time.
Dr. Philip Thornton, superintendent of Cumberland Public Schools, confirmed Engels was a former girls basketball coach at Cumberland High School.
“Her passing brings great sadness to her many colleagues and friends of the Cumberland School Department. As a former coach of the CHS Girls Basketball Team, Deb’s enthusiasm and eagerness to coach was an inspiration to all,” Thornton said in a statement. “Our Athletic Director Martin Crowley speaks very highly of her not only as a coach, but as a great role model for everyone. Her passing is truly a loss for this community. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.”
12 News also learned Engels worked with West Bay Collaborative in Warwick. For 14 years, Engels taught English to students in grades 6-12.
More recently, Executive Director Maryann Struble told 12 News that Engels moved from teaching to working as a transition specialist, helping students with what comes after high school.
“Deb worked tirelessly with students in our alternative learning program and she taught English in ways in which that really connected with kids,” Struble said. “She was a woman of great, great compassion. She was a woman that, every day, had a smile and you could count on her to be at school.”
Amid the tragedy, the Cumberland Fire Department is reminding residents of these fire pit safety tips:
- Keep fire pits at least ten feet away from structures and flammable objects.
- Always use dry wood that is free of chemical treatment.
- Do not use a fire put on especially dry or windy days.
- Do not let children or pets go unattended near a firepit.
- Keep water or dirt on hand to prevent the fire from going out of control.
- Never use gasoline to light a fire.
- Don’t wait to treat burns.
- Remember to stop, drop, and roll if your clothes catch fire.
Cumberland Fire Chief Nicholas Anderson said accidents can happen even when all the safety precautions are taken.
“Keep fire pits small and while they are enjoyable, they can have life altering consequences,” he said.