On February 24th, 2013 at around 11:30 PM Firefighters from the city of Philadelphia responded to an alarm in the Southwest part of the city. They were met with heavy fire showing on the first floor of a row home. As always they acted quickly to douse the flames and save anyone inside. Tragically one man on the second floor died in the fire and two escaped with injuries. Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers took to the airwaves to tell the story and predictably he came up with the most obvious answer.
If there had been smoke detectors this man would be alive today. Bravo Commissioner for stating the obvious. But what about the cause of the fire. Before you can claim that a working smoke detector could have saved a life there were so many other factors that led up to this tragedy.
The home had been divided up into five separate apartments, described in the news video from NBC 10 as a boarding house. Was this compartmentalization legally done? If there a record of this being an apartment building? Remember that potentially five or more people could have roomed here. The owner of this building also let the heater, which according to the news reports was an oil heater, stop working. Another negative to the situation.
As reported by the news the electrical box was “a mess”. So what we may have here is an overloaded electrical service device bought on by the renters having to use portable electric heaters. Just one heater requires a 15 Amp breaker. If all five tenants had one heater we are talking 75% of the total load on a 100 Amp box. Unless this home was upgraded to a larger box to accommodate the multiple tenants the die was cast long before the failure to put smoke detectors in each unit.
To make matters worse the Smoke detector system (actually Fire Detection) in an apartment building is required to be integrated to alert all residence. Individual smoke alarms would not be enough or legal.
The Fire Commissioner should be talking about ensuring proper living conditions for residents and quit blaming the lack of smoke detectors. The problems of the poor in the city go way beyond the presence of a device.
Eight fire deaths this year already. The city is on it’s way to 48. That would be tragic as is each untimely fire death.