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Letter: A Story of Two House Fires

Two recent house fires, one in New Jersey and one right here in Levittown, have prompted me, in the interest of fire safety, to review both of them.

The fire in South Plainfield New Jersey two weeks ago took the lives of four young children and one adult and scarred the lives of the members of that volunteer fire department’s members. They witnessed horrors there that they will long remember. The other house fire took place in Levittown on Feb. 24 and in that fire, three children and one adult escaped with very minor injuries. The Levittown F.D. volunteers responded quickly and extinguished the fire.

Two early morning house fires with occupants inside, two very different outcomes. Which house fire closely resembles your home? The common denominator in both these fires is obviously smoke detectors. As you may have heard on the TV reports, there were no working smoke detectors in the New Jersey fire and people died a horrible death. In the Levittown fire, smoke detectors were present and operated and the occupants escaped. The family’s pet dog also shares the credit for alerting them.

If there were working smoke detectors in the New Jersey fire, I’m sure the outcome would have been different. In this day and age, there is no excuse not to have smoke detectors in your home to alert your loved ones. Most fire departments give them away for free; some will even come and install them for you if you can’t. The Nassau County Fire Marshal’s office, whose job it is to investigate fires, reports that residential fires where a working smoke detectors was present, there was no loss of life!

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that these simple, cheap devices save lives, and yet the many fire chiefs I have spoken to report that many homes they have entered did not have smoke detectors. In New York, it’s the law to have at least one working smoke detector in the house. Enforcement is difficult. What is most frustrating is when there is a fire and death or serious injury result no charges are filed, (unless its a rental, then they go after the landlord). As long as we let this happen, these fires will occur again and again.

So I ask again, which of these homes bests describes your home? Two quick notes: there are many different types of Smoke Detectors out there. Some talk to you. There have been studies where it was found many children are not awakened by the standard smoke alarm. Do you know if your alarms will wake your family in time? You should also have an escape plan. Once the smoke alarm wakes you, what’s your plan to get out? If you have questions, call your fire department for advice.

Owen Magee
Hicksville Fire Department