LB Fire Department ramps up free smoke detector program

lbfd-smoke-detectors.jpgBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

After three young sisters died in a fire about two weeks ago, Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) officials increased their effort to publicize the department’s eight-year-old free smoke detector program.
“We have been giving smoke detectors free of charge to Long Beach residents that can’t afford to buy them for several years,” said Mike Duree, LBFD Captain and Public Information Officer. “The public’s interest in the program has waned in the past few years, but hopefully the recent tragedy will make everyone realize how important it is to have smoke detectors in their home.”
The three girls—Stephanie Aviles, 6, Jocelin Aviles, 7, and Jasmine Aviles 10—were killed as a result of a December 14 fire in a garage illegally converted into an apartment at 1052 1/2 Martin Luther King Junior Avenue, Duree said, noting that firefighters arrived on the scene less than four minutes after a neighbor called 9-1-1 and saw smoke coming from garage.
“They made a very aggressive interior attack on the fire and knocked it down within five minutes,” he said, adding that while battling the blaze, firefighters conducted a “primary search” for victims in the smoke-filled structure. “They found the three little girls in a make-shift bedroom and immediately evacuated them to paramedics who were waiting outside,” he said. “All three girls were in full arrest—not breathing and no pulse.”
The paramedics performed advanced life support techniques on the sisters and transported them to area hospitals. Stephanie and Jasmine died later that day. Jocelin died on Saturday. None of the girls ever regained consciousness.
“An investigation was conducted by LBFD fire investigators, Long Beach Police Department homicide detectives and representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,” Duree said. “They determined that an electric space heater caused the fire, but at this point we still don’t know whether it was a mechanical failure or whether combustibles were placed too close to the space heater.”
Duree noted that the converted garage had neither a smoke detector nor a fire sprinkler system, and either one of those could have saved the girls’ lives. “Following this tragedy, we wanted to make sure that the community knows we are still giving free smoke detectors to anyone in the city who cannot afford to buy them,” he said.
The program began about eight years ago when Radio Shack donated 1,000 smoke detectors to the LBFD. The fire department has about 200 of those left. “Recently, Friends of Long Beach Firefighters, our nonprofit organization, purchased 300 more from Lowe’s Home Improvement Store, which sold them to us at cost,” Duree said. Meanwhile, Home Depot has given us a $5,000 check to purchase about 2,000 more smoke detectors.”
LBFD has 23 fire stations scattered throughout the city. Duree said department personnel are in the process of bringing a supply of smoke detectors to every station to make it as convenient as possible for residents to get them. He noted that each fire station also has free pamphlets containing fire safety tips.
“We tell people to make sure they have smoke detectors in their homes and to make sure they change the batteries at least twice a year, whenever the time changes,” Duree said. He added that all the members of a household should sit down together and discuss an evacuation plan. “Everyone should know what to do and how to get out,” he said. “The last thing we want is for people to try and figure out what to do while their house is burning down around them.”
Duree said the death of the three little girls has impacted everyone in the LBFD. “It’s the smallest victims that weigh heaviest on our hearts and minds,” he said. “People need to be diligent about fire safety and that includes keeping combustible materials away from heaters and having smoke detectors.”
He added that the state fire code requires working smoke detectors in residences, but the fire department only has the authority to inspect residential buildings with three or more apartments, or houses that are in the process of being sold.
To get more information about the free smoke detectors, phone (562) 570-2500.

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