After series of deaths, officials urge smoke alarm checks
LYNN — Fire officials from across the state made a public plea Friday for residents to check their smoke detectors after a recent spike in fatal fires in homes lacking working devices.
Nineteen people have died in residential fires since Jan. 1 and in nearly 60 percent of those blazes, the home involved had no functioning smoke detectors, state Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said.
Nine people died in house fires in December, he said.
Among the most recent fatal fires in residences lacking working smoke alarms was a blaze that broke out last Saturday afternoon in a home in Orange where two girls, ages 6 and 8, died. Another one in West Newbury killed an 82-year-old man Tuesday.
“We’ve seen batteries sitting on top of the smoke alarm on a shelf, and the empty place or a bracket on the ceiling of a home where the smoke alarm used to be,” Ostroskey said during a news conference at Lynn Fire Department headquarters.
“It is heartbreaking to me and to these fire officials gathered here this morning to know that so many people could have survived whatever fire struck their home, if they had had early warning of the danger, if they had had working smoke alarms,” he said.
Orange Fire Chief James Young Jr. declined to comment Friday on the blaze that killed Leena Shea Ciolino, 6, and Victoria Rose Gaignard, 8, citing an ongoing investigation.
At least one carbon monoxide detector was found in the house, and residents reported hearing it, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services.
A funeral for Victoria is set for Monday at Orange Central Congregational Church, the girl’s obituary said. Witty’s Funeral Home in Orange said arrangements for Leena are pending.
Young said a man in his 50s died last month in an Orange trailer home that also had no working detectors.
“Had it had [working alarms], we don’t know what the outcome would have been, but early notification may have helped us get there quickly . . . and make a difference,” he said.
Ostroskey urged people to change the batteries in their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when they change the clocks this weekend.
Smoke detectors 10 years or older need to be replaced, Ostroskey said. He recommends sealed battery smoke alarms, which last 10 years and do not require replacement batteries.
Ostroskey said investigators looking into recent fire fatalities are examining why some residences lacked operational smoke detectors.
“We’re trying to understand that. It’s very troubling,” Ostroskey said. “A working smoke alarm is your first line of defense in a fire and it gives you the one thing you don’t have a lot of on those occasions: time.”
In last year’s deadliest fire, which killed a Lynn mother, her pregnant sister, her 20-year-old daughter, and her 28-year-old nephew, investigators said there were no working smoke alarms near the origin of the blaze.
Damage from that Dec. 4 fire at 24 Bruce Place in Lynn was so extensive that investigators could not definitively say whether the residence’s three units had working detectors, but people reported hearing alarms, the fire marshal’s office said at the time.
“This allowed the fire to get a huge head start before anyone was alerted to the early morning fire,” investigators said in a statement released in January. “The smoke had to enter the individual apartments where those smoke alarms gave people the first warning signs of danger, leaving them little or no time to escape.”
Fire officials also urged people to help elderly residents check their smoke alarms. Each year, about one-third of people killed in fires are age 65 or older, Ostroskey said.
To better protect seniors, 213 cities and towns have sought state grant money for education and alarm installation, said Cynthia M. Ouellette, a fire data and public education coordinator for the state fire services agency.
“The elderly is the most vulnerable population that we have, and they’re our prized possessions,” Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn said. “We need to make sure the elderly are protected.”