Editorial: Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fresh batteries, clean furnace can save your life

  • A mother and four daughters died nearly a year ago in a fire in Des Plaines. A faulty space heater, no smoke alarms and a lack of safe exit were blamed.

    A mother and four daughters died nearly a year ago in a fire in Des Plaines. A faulty space heater, no smoke alarms and a lack of safe exit were blamed. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Posted1/13/2022 1:00 AM

It's been nearly a year since a fire caused by what authorities believe was a faulty electric space heater claimed the lives of a Des Plaines woman and her four young children.

It's been just a few days since a carbon monoxide leak claimed the life of an Elgin woman and sickened her husband.


In the Elgin case, firefighters determined the home had a carbon monoxide concentration of 500 parts per million. Anything more than 9 parts per million is considered unsafe.

The source of the leak is still under investigation.

The mass fire tragedies in Philadelphia and the Bronx in recent days, while far away, hit home. The faces of those who lost loved ones and lost their homes, haunt us. They could just as likely be us.

This sort of senseless loss of life can happen in big cities and small. It can happen to the wealthy and the poor.

You might think this is the sort of thing that happens only in substandard inner city housing where corners might be cut on the basics of fire suppression and warnings, where old wiring is a contributor.

But as we've seen too many times in the suburbs, failing to test or put a new battery in smoke detectors renders them useless in the event of a fire. Those of us who don't have carbon monoxide detectors are playing with fire. You can't smell carbon monoxide. It simply knocks you out.

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Those of us who do not change our furnace filters regularly could be causing a backup of airflow into our heating system that could cause the heat exchanger to crack and emit carbon monoxide into the home.

Annual inspections of your furnace can red flag such problems.

Frayed cords, overloaded outlets, flammable materials too close to heat sources are some of the things that can make an otherwise safe home a dangerous place to be.

In the case of the Des Plaines fire, it was the unfortunate combination of three things: a faulty electric space heater, no safe secondary exit from the second floor apartment and no smoke alarms.

The fire inspector gauged the fire had seven minutes to burn before the first 9-1-1 call came in.

Seven precious minutes.

Five precious lives.

Cithlaly Zamudio, 25, and daughters Renate Espinosa, 6, Genesis Espinosa, 5, Allison Espinosa, 3, and Grace Espinosa, 1, died that day.


We all find ways to pay our insurance bills so we can recover from fire and flood and more easily pay for health care and car repairs after an accident.

So why do we not pay enough attention to that simple checklist of fire and carbon monoxide alerts and furnace maintenance and make sure we're using safe appliances and not overloading outlets?

Your life could depend on it.

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