By SAODAT ASANOVA-TAYLOR
Capital News Service
LANSING – Some Michigan residents fail to recognize the importance of smoke detectors, creating a risk of serious injuries and deaths, safety experts say.
Christine Jackson, who owns an apartment building in Jackson, said it has been a difficult task to keep her tenants safe.
“As landlord, I am required by the city to provide operational smoke detectors, but tenants fail to maintain them. Either the batteries are taken out, or the smoke detectors are completely removed from the wall,” she said.
According to Ronald Farr, the state fire marshal, communities nationwide each year witness tragic home fire deaths related to lack of smoke detectors.
“Almost two-thirds of them are in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. A smoke alarm is a simple, effective way to reduce home fire deaths,” he said.
The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ latest annual fire accident report show the total number of fire incidents in the state reached more than 29,000, including 7,055 cases related to smoke detectors.
Absence and poor maintenance of smoke detectors caused several fatal accidents in Grand Rapids in 2011. For example, three house fires killed four adults and a 10-month-old baby in one week.
“These incidents forced the local fire department to enhance its inspection process and increase public awareness training in the region,” said Gary Szotko, deputy chief for fire prevention at the Grand Rapids Fire Department
Szotko also noted that his agency didn’t have permission for home inspections in the past.
“Until recently, we could install smoke detectors in houses and apartments but could not do follow-up inspections because a different agency was in charge of it. Now we have the new ordinance program launched that allows us to go to these properties,” he said.
However the new ordinance still doesn’t allow the fire department to inspect rental houses and apartments.
“We are hoping that we would team up with the housing inspectors and fire crew to conduct joint monthly inspections. This cooperation gives us plenty of opportunities to be more effective and identify all the fire safety problems at the same time,” Szotko said.
Statistics nationwide show the most common causes of fire are faulty electrical wires, leaving cooking unattended, forgotten smoking materials and candles. Alcohol consumption also contributes to residential fire deaths as it leads to sleepiness and forgetting to turn off stoves, candles or cigarettes.
Chad Witt, the Three Rivers fire marshal, said some residents realize the need for smoke detectors but they can’t afford them.
“We inspect houses, and it’s amazing to see how many people don’t have smoke detectors because of the economic situation. We tend to give out as many as we can, but we don’t have specific funding for this cause,” Witt said.
Witt said the general number of the fires in Three Rivers still remains high level.
“Smoke detectors definitely helped to reduce fire accidents. However, the numbers still vary from 20-30 fires per household, which is actually a big number for our region,” said Witt.
General state funding cuts don’t allow all fire departments to put big money into purchasing smoke detectors or conduct pubic awareness-raising campaigns. However, several departments have done local fundraising.
Marco Marcantoni, the Traverse City fire marshal, said his agency launched a Small Alarm Project aimed to install, 5000 free smoke detectors and provide batteries for Grand Traverse County residents.
“We had a number of fatal fire accidents in the past because of not having smoke detectors. Some of our colleagues from Iowa shared their fundraising program idea and challenged us to do the same thing. Thankfully local agencies and local residents responded positively to our grant proposals,” he said.
Marcantoni noted that the funds are partly intended to pay for education initiatives for fire safety protection for local schools and the community.
“To educate people makes our job easier. Some people don’t know the first response to fire. They don’t know such facts as that smoke alarms expire in 10 years, and we find a lot that are not working,” he said.
According to Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, children are at increased risk of home fires because they don’t know first response techniques and become scared and confused when fire erupts.
Steve Childs, assistant chief of the Jackson Fire Department, recommends that schools and parents be more responsible in teaching their children about fire drills.
“Schools and parents, in particular, must conduct ongoing training with kids. They have to learn how quickly the kids identify and respond to smoke detector sounds,” he said.
“Moreover, parents need to develop an evacuation plan in the house and make sure their children know how to use it,” Childs said.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SAODAT ASANOVA-TAYLOR