TAMPA — Last month’s death of a 4-year-old child in Ruskin has fire officials talking again about the importance of having functional smoke detectors in the home.
In Florida, smoke detectors are required in all new homes. Installing the small devices in locations throughout the house is strongly recommended, but it’s not illegal for a homeowner to take them out for aesthetics or because they go off whenever steaks are broiling.
“A man’s home is his castle,” said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue inspector Artie Taylor. “We have no right to enter and check.”
Houses should be equipped with more than one smoke alarm. They should be inside and outside bedrooms and at least one other place on each floor. Although new and purchased homes require smoke detectors for sales and certificates of occupancy, once the homeowner moves in, there is nothing to keep him or her from taking them down.
Sparking the conversation about smoke alarms was the death of Alejandra Carmona, who died in a mobile home fire in February. Fire officials say none of the mobile homes in Wolfs Mobile Home Park had smoke alarms, including the one Alejandra was in on the night of Feb. 14.
Taylor said it was unclear to inspectors if the residents of the homes rented or owned them.
“Landlords have the ultimate responsibility,” he said. “If you are in the business of renting out space, you have the responsibility to install them.”
Still, he said, renters have been known to take them down as well.
A few days after the fatal Ruskin fire, county fire officials went to the mobile home park and installed nine smoke alarms in four mobile homes. None of the 13 mobile homes in the park had smoke alarms before fire rescue installed them, firefighters said.
According to county property records, the park is owned by Gulf Shore Rental Group, which has an address in Gibsonton. Records show the group purchased the park two years ago from a New York company. A representative of Gulf Shore Rental Group could not be reached for comment.
Getting a smoke alarm is easy and cheap. County firefighters hand out smoke detectors for free and even will install them, Taylor said. Anyone wanting one can call (813) 744-5541.
Statistics say a person is twice as likely to escape a fire and survive if there is a working smoke alarm in the house.
The United States’ fire-death per capita rate is the highest in the industrial world, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration. Each year, fires kill about 3,000 people and injure 20,000. The majority of deaths are in homes without a working smoke alarm, statistics say.
Hillsborough County fire prevention officials say most fatal home fires happen at night when people are asleep. The smell of smoke may not wake a sleeping person, but the sound of a loud alarm might.
“When you’re sleeping and you have a fire,” Taylor said, “the carbon monoxide takes you that much deeper into sleep. Most of the fire (victims) don’t get burned up, they die of smoke inhalation.”
Fire inspectors have no jurisdiction in already owned single-family homes, he said, and they can’t order homeowners to put them up.
“All we can do is to try to educate the public,” he said, reiterating the county’s smoke detector program that will install the devices for free.
“We don’t care if you rent or own your home,” Taylor said.
“We will come out and install them for you because not having one ... is just bad.”