Too many homes lack working smoke detectors
Fire safety is becoming a heated topic in Garfield County as fire districts continue to worry that too many homes are left unprotected.
In less than 12 months, the Colorado River Fire Rescue has responded to three serious house fires in which the home did not have a working smoke detector.
“I think it’s a problem everywhere,” said Maria Piña, public information officer for Colorado River Fire Rescue. “People are really lax when it comes to smoke detectors. I think people have the mentality that it won’t happen to them. Three fires without smoke detectors, and thankfully nobody died.”
In a letter to the editor, Piña described the importance of smoke alarms, stating the devices “save lives by detecting and alerting people to fire in its early stages, giving them the time needed to escape safely.” According to the National Fire Protection Association, working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires by nearly in half.
“Most homes have them, they are just disabled,” she added. “People get sick of them beeping when they burn their popcorn and just don’t turn them back on.”
Three house fires in less than twelve months, two in Rifle and one in New Castle, have resulted in serious fire damage and in one case the family’s dog even died because it couldn’t get out in time, according to Piña. In none of these fires did the family have a working smoke detector.
The most recent fire started from a wood-burning stove at Cedar Court in Rifle. The mother of the house was out grocery shopping, leaving three children alone. The children heard the sound of crackling of items that were too close to the stove, and the oldest child immediately got the other two out.
Colorado River Fire Rescue Fire Marshall Orrin Moon said that the second fire was started in the garage of a Rifle home and was caused by faulty wiring from a charger. While the fire was contained to the garage, smoke filled every room of the house and one of the children ended up waking up from the carbon dioxide alarm. He woke up the dad and the father got them both out. The dog did not make it.
Moon said that the family had problems with one of the smoke detectors and had them all pulled down. All smoke detectors must be interconnected in single-family buildings so if one goes off they all go off. Moon said that there are several reasons families often have problems with smoke detectors, including dead batteries, bugs getting inside them or their life expectancy of 10 years is up.
“It could be a number of things, “ he said.
The first fire that started this pattern for Colorado River Fire Rescue occurred in New Castle, and the damage was so severe that the family was unable to move back in. The homeowner woke up one night coughing and found that the whole house filled with smoke. He was able to get himself and the family dog out through a bedroom window, but the house was a total loss.
“It may be coincidence, we don’t know, but it seems to me that the house fires that we’ve been called to haven’t had any working smoke detectors,” Moon explained. “We just want to get the word out. When you change your clocks, change the batteries on your smoke detectors. We normally don’t wake up from smoke. Smoke detectors save lives.”
Piña outlined several steps Garfield County residents should take to ensure their home is safe from fire, including testing the smoke alarms at least once a month, replacing the battery when “chirping” begins, replace all smoke alarms every 10 years, and choosing new smoke detectors with a combination of photoelectric and ionization. Standard ionization-type detectors are not meant for altitudes of more than 3,000 feet. The thinner air of higher altitudes causes the detectors to respond more slowly to smoke.
While the problem has played out primarily in western Garfield County, adequate smoke and fire detection is a good practice for every home no matter where you live.
“I think the biggest thing is for people to take them seriously and replace the batteries annually,” said Glenwood Springs Deputy Fire Marshall Ron Biggers.
He said that he hasn’t seen any large house fires that have resulted in death in Glenwood Springs, but nationally homes where people don’t have working smoke detectors are often the biggest killers.
While Biggers advocated that residents take smoke detectors seriously, he also recommended that those moving into new homes consider getting residential sprinklers.
“I’m a big proponent of residential sprinklers,” he added. “They are lifesaving. Residential sprinklers start to put fires out right away and give people a chance to get out.”
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