Working Smoke Detectors Were Present in Only About 27% of Fatal Fires in New York City

NY Daily News - December 28, 2011

by Rocco Parascandola - NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

FDNY officials say often the batteries are bad, or there are no alarms

The tragic fire that killed five people in Connecticut has put new attention on home fire safety -- and the importance of smoke detectors.

Working smoke alarms were found at the scene of fewer than 30% of fatal fires in New York City last year, the FDNY said Tuesday.

Statistics show that 62 people died in city fires last year. Six victims died in cars or places where smoke alarms are not an issue.

But in the 56 other blazes, working detectors were found only 15 times, or 27%.

Eleven other times -- 20% -- smoke detectors were found, but not working.

The FDNY also said working smoke detectors were present in only 264 of the 1,002 fires with injuries -- a mere 26%.

"Too many times the batteries are too old because people forget to change them,'' said Lt. Anthony Mancuso, the FDNY's director of fire safety education. "Or they take them out because they keep going off. They are sensitive, especially if they're near the kitchen, and the sound can be annoying.

"But they get you going way before the fire gets out of control, and they save lives."

Last year alone, 25,000 smoke detectors and 100,000 batteries were handed out for free.

The detectors, which sell for less than $20, should be be placed in basements, living room areas and near the bedrooms.

He also said it's important that residents, especially the very young and the very old, are familiar with the alarm's piercing sound and know where to head once a fire starts.

Mancuso is not familiar with all the details of the fatal Stamford fire, but says not having smoke detectors -- as appears to be the case in Connecticut -- is a recipe for disaster.

"It's a shame to see these things,'' he said. "It's the same all over -- you've got to have working smoke detectors."