Working Smoke Detectors Save Lives

smoke detector
The following article, written as an opinion piece by Brewster Fire Chief Bob Moran, appeared in the Cape Cod Times on March 27, 2015. We thought it was well worth reprinting here:
"Having spent the past 37 years providing fire and emergency medical services to communities in urban, suburban and rural environments, I have personally witnessed the tragedy and suffering that comes to families, communities and first responders following fatal fire incidents.
From a firefighter's standpoint, carrying the lifeless body of a person out of a building is something that will be indelibly etched into an individual’s identity for the rest of one's life. Yes, many people will say that’s what the job entails and the firefighters knew exactly what the hazards and potential related afflictions were when they signed up.
However, while there is some validity to that opinion, I can personally articulate the fact that it does not make it any easier when an event of this nature occurs. It is affixed to your character forever and it is not pleasant.
From another more global view as a fire chief, I can attest to the fact that my peers in Barnstable County and across the country are trained to proactively evaluate their individual town's fire risk and develop and implement programs designed to reduce fire occurrences and losses in their communities. Typically this is accomplished through partnership-based community programs that encompass and focus on the core fire services of life safety and property conservation.
One major problem that arises is that no matter how well these programs are designed and communicated to the community, a huge responsibility to ensuring their success falls on the individual occupants of each dwelling and their attitude toward preserving their own safety.
An extremely popular and accurate fire service term used in many applications in our business is “complacency kills.” Firefighters know this to be true because many of the approximately 100 annual firefighter fatalities that occur in the United States involve some type of complacency and lack of situational awareness on the individual.
Sadly, in my experience, I have also found this term to be one of the more predominant reasons community fire-risk reduction efforts fall short of their intended goals. Occupants of dwellings become complacent to the potential fire hazards that exist within the very spaces they occupy and then fail to implement simple proactive measures, such as ensuring working smoke detectors are present on each level of their home. In essence the theory of “it won’t happen to me” becomes the norm until such time a tragedy occurs and the community becomes immediately stimulated to the issue until time passes and residents once again bury their heads.
Since Jan. 1, 15 Massachusetts residents have been killed in residential fires, including one resident of Chatham. In total, 779 individuals across the United States have been killed during the same time period. That includes 226 deaths that occurred during 89 multiple-fatality fires, such as last week’s fire in Brooklyn, New York, that claimed the lives of seven children and critically injured another sibling and the children’s mother who jumped from second-floor windows prior to the arrival of fire department units. This tragic fire, like several others across the country where working smoke detectors were not present, have taken the lives of 38 individuals, including a large number of innocent children.
After many years of service and witnessing numerous tragedies of this nature, the fire in Brooklyn prompted me to write this column. There is a simple, yet powerful message for each reader to take away from this piece, and it is a phrase that your local fire department has delivered time and time again: “Smoke Detectors Save Lives.” The real question is, are you listening? If so, take action. Do whatever it takes to make your family and home safe. Don’t become a statistic.
If your home is not protected by a working smoke detector, visit or contact your local fire department for assistance. Most, if not all Barnstable County fire departments, support some kind of residential smoke detector program, and I am positive they would look favorably on the opportunity to work in partnership with their residents to improve the level of fire and life safety within their respective communities."
Robert Moran is the Brewster fire chief.