By Kristy MacKaben
One of the deadliest fires in Altoona may not have been quite so tragic if there were working smoke detectors. The March 22 blaze ravaged a second-story apartment on 18th Avenue in Altoona, killing five people and shocking neighbors and firefighters.
Inside the apartment, there were no working smoke detectors.
Altoona City Fire Inspector Mike Tofano said if there had been, lives may have been saved.
“None of the smoke alarms [we found in the debris] had working batteries in them,” Tofano said. “We’re exposed a lot of times to the results of what can happen if they don’t change those batteries or if they don’t have batteries in the smoke alarms.”
Tofano, as well as local firefighters and national fire prevention organizations, are stressing the need to change smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries when clocks are changed this weekend for Daylight Savings Time.
“It’s just a helpful reminder to do it twice a year,” Tofano said, when clocks are changed in March and November.
Annually on average, fire departments responded between 2006 and 2008 to more than 386,000 residential fires, which resulted in 2,400 deaths, more than 12,500 injuries and $6.92 billion in property damage.
“Across the United States, thousands of people die needlessly, simply because they either had no smoke detectors or they had no working smoke detectors. The batteries had not been changed or the carbon monoxide detectors had gone dead and sat there,” Bedford County Emergency Management Agency Director Dave Cubbison said. “It gives false hope when they see a smoke detector. They think they’ll be protected. They think they’ll be saved. If the batteries are dead, there’s a good chance they will be, too.”
According to Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Ed Mann, smoke alarms cut in half the risk of dying in a home fire.
“Installing and maintaining smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home is one of the most effective things you can do to keep your family safe,” Mann stated in a news release.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home, as well as outside sleeping areas and inside each bedroom.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas that is invisible. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states an average of 184 unintentional, non-fire carbon monoxide deaths occur each year.
Along with changing smoke detector batteries twice a year, it is also recommended to test the batteries once a month.
Cubbison suggested getting children involved with the monthly testing.
“If you have children in your home, let your children lead that and have them be the home or family fire marshal. It’s their duty and chore on the first Saturday of every month that they go around to all the smoke detectors. They get to make that noise. What kid doesn’t want to do that?” Cubbison said.
Other ways to prevent fires include not using electric or kerosene space heaters in bedrooms, properly maintaining and repairing fireplace flues and chimneys and not overloading outlets, Cubbison said.