It’s a sad scenario that Philadelphia firefighters see all too often: citizens suffering injury or death in a residential fire with no working smoke detectors in the home.
Smoke detectors might not be able to save fire victims from loss of property, but there’s little doubt they help prevent injury or loss of life. On April 18, members of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 46 spread that message to members of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association.
“There should be one smoke detector on every level of the home,” said Lt. Tom Loftus of Engine 46, which is based at Frankford and Linden avenues.
According to Loftus, two engine units provide the primary coverage in Upper Holmesburg. Engine 46 is the lead unit as far south as Ashburner Street, while Engine 36 at Frankford and Hartel avenues is the main responder south of Ashburner. But depending on the circumstances, either engine company or others may end up as “first in.”
Nonetheless, both engine companies engage in fire prevention efforts in the community. At the civic meeting, Loftus offered to supply residents with new smoke detectors with long-lasting lithium batteries for free. The fire department will even install the units.
The same offer is available to any city resident by calling the city’s non-emergency 311 telephone hot line, Loftus said. Residents can request new smoke detectors and schedule their local fire unit to install them, although there may be a waiting period.
Under the law, Loftus said, all homes in the city must have working smoke detectors, although that’s difficult to enforce. Fire code inspectors ensure that all new residential construction is fully equipped with smoke detectors.
According to the fire lieutenant, do-it-yourselfers should remember that smoke rises, so detectors should be mounted to the ceiling on each level of a home, including the basement. It’s advisable to install the units at the stairwells.
For folks who already have smoke detectors installed, the city offers free replacement batteries. Most detectors have a button to test battery life. Many batteries are rated to last only six months. So the fire department employs a “change your clocks, change your batteries” public information campaign twice annually.
Sadly, Loftus said, some residents are their own worst enemies for fire prevention. They take fresh batteries from their smoke detectors and install them in non-essential devices, like TV remotes or video game controllers.
“Then the detector won’t work when they really need it,” Loftus said. ••