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posted: 1/9/2017 3:53 PM

Editorial: Review after house fire shows many still need to get serious about smoke detectors

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  • Elgin firefighter Guy Blando installed free smoke detectors in residents' homes after a fire that displaced two families last month.

    Elgin firefighter Guy Blando installed free smoke detectors in residents' homes after a fire that displaced two families last month.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We'd like to think working smoke detectors are as common in suburban dwellings as light bulbs.

They are relatively inexpensive to buy, easy to maintain and available at hundreds of stores. Even more important, they are a reliable safety device that often means the difference between life and death.

So, how is it that a recent neighborhood canvass of residences by Elgin firefighters found only one in four dwellings had working smoke detectors? In those that didn't, the devices were not functioning or weren't present at all.

"It's kind of scary," Elgin Fire Chief David Schmidt told our Elena Ferrarin.

That's an understatement.

To suburban fire departments, as well as residents, this should sound an alarm as shrill as the noise smoke detectors make when activated about how many dwellings may not be protected.

Continuing to beat the drum about the importance of having working smoke detectors, employing the kind of targeted canvassing done in Elgin and handing out the devices where needed should be on department to-do lists.

For any homeowners, renters and landlords that don't have a working smoke detector, we emphatically say get with the program.

With the arrival of very cold weather, and the accompanying use of space heaters and other devices to provide warmth, the fire threat increases. Why every dwelling isn't protected these days is mystifying.

Not surprisingly, the Elgin initiative came a couple of days after a house fire last month that displaced two families with a total of nine children -- one suffered burns on her back -- who lived in a converted house. Investigators found no working smoke detectors in the second floor unit, where the fire started in a bedroom, officials said.

Schmidt directed firefighters to return to the neighborhood to check the condition of smoke detectors and give out new ones if necessary. During the hourlong canvass, 14 firefighters knocked on doors and talked to 45 people. They gave out 14 sets of batteries and installed 30 new smoke detectors.

Just as sobering is a 2015 National Fire Protection Association report that shows the death rate per 100 reported house fires from 2009 to 2013 was more than twice as high in dwellings that did not have any working smoke alarms.

The Elgin Fire Department has offered free smoke detectors and in-home installation for more than a year, and officials say their goal in 2017 is to do to more fire prevention outreach, including more targeted canvassing efforts. Other departments take similar steps and must continue to do so.

No matter how much of a no-brainer the use of smoke alarms should be, it's clear many people still haven't received the message. Let's keep pushing until they all do.

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