Firefighter: Smoke detectors save lives

GREENPORT—A tragic fire in Brooklyn late last month killed seven children aged 5 to 16 in their bedrooms. The fire started in the first floor kitchen when a hot plate, a device often used by Jewish families to keep food warm during the Sabbath, malfunctioned during the night. The children’s mother and her 15-year-old daughter were able to jump from a second floor window, according to a press release from Greenport Fire Department Training Officer Douglas Garrison.

Investigators found only one smoke detector in the basement of the two-story house but have not found any on the first or second floor. The fire started just after midnight, probably smoldered for a while and then flared up, causing flames to eventually make their way to the stairway and up to the second floor. The mother was able to make her way across the street to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Even though firefighters were on the scene in a matter of minutes, it was already too late and instead of rescuing survivors, they were only able to bring out victims, the release said.

Resuscitation efforts were started by firefighters as they carried them out, some badly burned, to waiting ambulances. The mother and daughter who escaped are in critical condition with burns and smoke inhalation injuries, said the release.

The loss has and will have a profound effect on the family, their friends and their neighbors, potentially because of the lack of a few $10 smoke detectors, the release said. The firefighters tried their best to save these people but had no chance because of the advanced state of the fire. They had to remove the victims through windows and down ladders in their unsuccessful attempts at rescue, said the release.

According to Mr. Garrison, people should stop fooling themselves by thinking a dog or cat will wake them in the middle of the night if their home catches on fire or that they will wake up when the smoke reaches their bedroom. The fact is that three out of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Most fire deaths are caused by the toxic effects of the products of combustion, including carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide among others and it only takes about four to five minutes after the fire starts to incapacitate the residents who are in a bedroom with an open door, Mr. Garrison said in the release.

Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half. In fires considered large enough to activate the smoke alarm, hardwired alarms operated 93% of the time, while battery powered alarms operated only 79% of the time.

In reported home fires where smoke alarms were present but did not operate:

  • Almost half (47%) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries. Nuisance alarms were the leading reason for disconnected smoke alarms
  • One-quarter (24%) of the smoke alarm failures were due to dead batteries
  • Only 7% of the failures were due to hardwired power source problems, including disconnected smoke alarms, power outages, and power shut-offs.

“Forget that it’s the law, but it is the smartest thing you can do to help save your life. Check with your neighbors too; you may be able to save their lives as well. If there are no smoke detectors or working smoke detectors on each level of your home as well as outside of sleeping areas, you should make your next trip one where you are purchasing some smoke detectors or replacement batteries. And if you really can’t afford it, check with your local fire department. They may have a source for donated detectors. Whatever you do, don’t wait!” Mr. Garrison said in the release.

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