By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – Todd Brighton said when a fire started in his Detroit house in 2006, a smoke detector woke up his roommates and him.
Brighton, now living in Wyandotte, credits the smoke detector with being able to shut down the fire and getting out of the rental house.
“I never really thought about how important they were until that morning,” Brighton said. “It was early in the morning and without it, we could have all been in trouble.”
Allen Park firefighters see the importance, too.
The Fire Department has a program in coordination with Wayne County Community Development/Economic Development Growth Engine providing free smoke detectors to seniors and families with qualifying income. Smoke detectors are also given to residents on fixed incomes.
“Smoke detectors really do save lives,” Fire Chief Doug LaFond said.
LaFond said the city hasn’t had a fatal fire in five years and credits that somewhat to more houses being equipped with smoke detectors. He said that in the fatal fire five years ago, there was a detector and the resident got out in time; however, the man went back in his house to grab belongings and succumbed to the smoke.
“We used to have a program in the past, but not currently,” Wyandotte Fire Chief, Jeff Carley said.
Carley said such a program is funded by either grant money or a distributor making the detectors available to the department.
Carley said the devices are life savers and would like to see every house have one.
Dearborn/Melvindale Fire Chief Joe Murray said the department has smoke detectors that they give to residents.
“We give them to any resident that is in need,” Murray said.
All the firefighters agree that smoke detectors indeed save lives.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports that 2,500 people die annually in house fires. There were no working detectors in the majority of these houses, the report states.
LaFond said that since the evolution of smoke detectors — the first smoke detector was put into use in 1902 in England — fatal fires have decreased dramatically.
LaFond said the majority of fatal fires occur while people are sleeping, which makes smoke detectors that much more important.
“There is definitely a number of house fires that occur while the family is sleeping,” Murray said, noting that the smoke detectors help wake up the occupants so they can get out of the house before the threat grows. “I’ve seen it and the crews have seen it.
“They are a very important tool for us. They alert residents that something is wrong.”
The department recently applied for an additional $9,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to gain more smoke detectors.
Murray said that is especially important when fires double in size every 30 seconds.
Ideally, firefighters say each house should have more than one detector.
“There should be one detector by all bedrooms and ignition sources (stove, hot water heater, furnace),” Murray said. “Especially by bedrooms, so that when sleeping they can realize something is on fire.”
LaFond said he has six detectors in his house and recently replaced them all after years of operation.
The firefighters said the detectors should be replaced after 10 years or in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendation.
Charity Bowden of Allen Park is thankful she hasn’t endured a fire, but believes in smoke detectors.
“We have them in several rooms,” Bowden said. “It’s an additional safety measure.”
Growing up, Bowden said her dad was diligent about changing the batteries in the detectors each time the clocks were changed.
“We even did practice fire drills,” she said.
(Tereasa Nims can be reached at [email protected].)