PARMA, Ohio — Amid a recent surge in the number of people killed in house fires statewide this year, the Ohio State Fire Marshal and local fire officials are again beating the drum about the importance of smoke detectors and alarms.
In a summer newsletter, State Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey said the number of Ohioans killed in residential fires was deeply concerning. So far in 2019, 90 people statewide have been killed in a home fire, which amounts to a sharp increase compared to the two previous years. In 2017 and 2018, the fire marshal said there were between 110 and 120 fatalities.
In many of the cases, Hussey said smoke detectors were either missing altogether or they were missing a battery.
“I’m frustrated because I believe people know the importance of these life saving devices; yet they continue to ignore the proper installation and maintenance of alarms in their homes,” Hussey said.
Veteran Parma firefighter TJ Martin echoed Hussey’s frustrations.
“When a smoke detector isn’t working or you walk into a home that was damaged in a fire and you see the smoke detector lid was down because they needed the battery for the Playstation or they needed the battery for a different remote… it hits you,” Martin said. “You know the safeguard was in place and it wasn’t used properly.”
The surge in fire fatalities is especially concerning to fire officials because the peak season for fires – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – is still months away. Many of the fires in the winter months occur because of overloaded circuits and unattended cooking.
“Quite frankly, I’ve done it myself. You put something on the stove and you sit down and the next thing you know you’re falling asleep. It happens,” Martin said. “It’s human nature but have the safeguards in place like a smoke detector that will alert you to the possibility of a fire.”
Despite being as ubiquitous as the seat belt on a car, oftentimes smoke detectors are often overlooked. Their importance also cannot be understated. The chance of surviving a house fire is cut in half if there are no working smoke detectors. Additionally, smoke detectors are more important now than they have ever been.
With the prevalence of plastic and petroleum-based products in consumer goods, a small house fire can become a raging inferno in a matter of minutes. Officials said a homeowner 30 years ago could escape a house fire within 15 to 17 minutes. However, a homeowner currently has less than five minutes to escape.
“[Consumer goods] are fire resistant but when they go up, they combust immediately, which lessens your time and your ability to get out of that house,” Martin said. “The increase in likelihood of someone perishing in a house fire, again, it goes up exponentially if they don’t have the safeguards in place. If you can only afford one, place [the smoke detector] outside your bedroom entrance. That’s where you are going to be at night. That’s where the silent killer is going to hit you. We’re also advocates of closing your bedroom doors. When you’re in them or not, close your bedroom doors.”
Like many municipalities, the Parma Fire Department offers free smoke detectors to citizens who qualify, including seniors and low income residents. The department also has major initiatives every year to remind homeowners to test and change their smoke detector batteries.
“As a fire department, we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure they’re safe. If we can do that by giving them a smoke detector, we’ve done our job,” Martin said.