We hear the warnings all the time, but too many of us do not listen to them: Smoke detectors are absolutely necessary inside homes. Night-time fire can kill the occupants of a home while they sleep; the carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and other poisons that enter our bodes from smoke inhalation can kill a person within seconds.
Unfortunately, lack of smoke alarms or faulty smoke detectors caused two terrible tragedies in the past few weeks. First, In Charleston, WV, in mid-March, a fire tore through a two-story home that had no working smoke detectors, killing eight family members--including six children.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said he believed it was the city's deadliest fire in at least six decades. Jones said only one smoke detector was found in a cabinet, and it was not working. The Mayor said he was "devastated" by the news when he got a phone call after the fire was reported around 3:30 a.m.
"I walked up there and caught a glimpse of some of the fatalities, and it's something that's hard to grasp. The fact that there are [six] dead children, it's unimaginable." In addition, one child was on life support at a hospital and not expected to survive, the mayor said.
Neighbors indicated there had been a birthday party at the home a few hours before for one of the adults. An adult female from the home went to a neighbor's house to report the fire overnight. The home was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.
The fire chief said that firefighters knocked down the flames quickly. But when they got inside the house, they found five victims and "started realizing there were a lot of people in this house, a lot of children." The fire seems to have started in the middle of the home's main level. The cause is under investigation.
And in Jacksonville, AR the same week, the bodies of a mother and her four children were found inside a duplex apartment, and authorities believe they were killed by smoke inhalation from an overnight fire that had actually died out before firefighters arrived.
A maintenance worker found the bodies around 7 a.m., about an hour after firefighters first knocked on the door to follow up on a neighbor's report of smelling smoke. At the time, nobody answered the door and the firefighters could not detect any sign of a fire from outside, so they left without entering, said the fire chief.
Firefighters had three engines deployed to another house fire nearby, and they believed that was the source of the smoke. After firefighters returned to the scene following the discovery of the bodies by the maintenance worker, they determined that a fire burned overnight and smoldered itself out, causing a lot of smoke to build up in the duplex.
The 31-year-old mother died in her sleep, along with her four children: ages 11, 9, 7, and 4. The maintenance worker found the bodies in their bedrooms and saw extensive smoke damage in the kitchen. "The damage around the stove and the cabinets beside the stove," said the fire chief. "Evidently, something was cooking and caught fire."
A police spokeswoman said there was smoke and soot damage throughout the duplex and in the ventilation system, but no fire damage to the outside of the duplex.
"I got the call this morning and I couldn't believe it," said a family friend, who was godfather to the family. "The last thing I heard the son say was that we were going to get together this weekend and go to the park."
Authorities say a smoke alarm is being tested as part of the investigation. They say smoke detectors in the duplexes do not send signals directly to the fire department and that the detectors do not require regular battery replacement because they are hard-wired into the complex. It is not known at this time if the building's fire alarms were working properly. If they were not, then the complex might have legal liability for injuries that caused the deaths of the occupants.
If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.