The death of a Dodge City woman and her 2-year-old grandson in a house fire Dec. 27 has prompted local officials to increase community awareness of the importance of smoke alarms. And while the cause of the fire that killed 51-year-old Luz Maria Conejo and her young grandson Pablo Antonio Coca-Conejo is still under investigation, their tragic deaths could have been avoided if smoke alarms were present in the home.
Capt. Ken Spencer of the Dodge City Fire Department (DCFD) said homes without smoke detectors are a common occurence his crew runs into.
"I think it's just one of those things where folks don't think it will happen to them,"he said. "And when it does happen, they're not prepared."
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), several studies have concluded that when working smoke alarms are present in a residence, the chance of a fire-related fatality is cut in half. But the presence of a smoke alarm alone isn't enough; maintenance and proper placement of the devices plays a large role in protecting families from fires.
One is not enough
The Kansas Smoke Detector Act requires every single-family residence to have at least one smoke detector on each floor of the dwelling. For structures containing more than one residence, at least one smoke detector must be installed at the uppermost ceiling of each interior stairwell and on every story.
"We suggest smoke alarms be installed in all sleeping areas as well as each level of the home," Spencer said.
Alarms should be no closer than 3 feet from supply registers or forced air heating systems and no closer than three feet from the door to a kitchen or a bathroom containing a shower, according to the USFA.
The USFA lists kitchens and garages as places where smoke alarms should not be installed. According to the organization, cooking fumes and car exhaust are likely to set them off. Unheated attics and crawl spaces are also inadequate locations for smoke detectors since they can get too cold or hot for the electronics to work properly.
Who's responsibility is it?
The same act requires the owner of a structure to supply and install all smoke alarms as well as test and maintain them. But, for rental properties, once a tenant moves in, the responsibility falls on that person to keep the device in working order.
Smoke alarms should be tested at least once a month by pushing the "test" button to check out the entire alarm, including its sensitivity (how much smoke it takes to set it off). If the testing mechanism does not work properly, the alarm should be replaced immediately, the USFA advises. Never use open flame devices to test an alarm.
And since models may vary, homeowners should read the booklet that comes with their alarm.
Page 2 of 2 - Smoke alarms have a useful life of about ten years. At that age they should be replaced, even if they seem to be working, according to the USFA.
Failure to place and maintain a smoke detector in a residence in Kansas is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $25.
In addition to responding to nearly 1200 calls a year, the DCFD offers assistance to residents installing and testing smoke detectors.
"Just call the station and we'd be happy to come check the alarms," Spencer said.
The department has a goal to make sure every home in Dodge City has at least one detector. To reach that goal, Spencer said the department is seeking a few grants and also working with local businesses to have smoke alarms donated to families that can't afford to purchase them on their own.
To reach the Dodge City Fire Deparment call (620) 225-8187.