Three artificial blue flowers were attached to a chain-link fence outside a home on Parrish Avenue that caught fire Saturday afternoon. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
Photo: Michael D. Pitman
Photo: Michael D. Pitman

Fatal Butler County fire underlines need for smoke detectors, chief says

There were no batteries in the smoke detectors at Robert Tuttle Jr.’s home in the 2000 block of Parrish Avenue, said Fairfield Twp. Fire Chief Timothy Thomas. The chief can’t comment on the Sept. 28 incident but said “we know smoke detectors save lives, there’s no doubt. The early warning is huge.”

Tuttle was found on a couch in the living room near his home’s front door, and two pets died in the fire, according to a police report. The chief said by the time the 911 caller contacted emergency dispatchers, it was likely too late as flames were shooting out the windows and front porch and black smoke was coming from the one-story home.

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Investigations by the Butler County Coroner and Butler County Fire Investigation Team are still pending, Thomas said.

A person or family has three to four minutes to get out of a burning home, Thomas said. Twenty to 30 years ago, he said a family had upwards of 15 to 17 minutes to exit a home.

“We need you out of the house by the time the fire department gets there. Clear and simple,” Thomas said.

From 2012 to 2016, smoke alarms sounded in 53 percent of the home fires reported to U.S. fire departments. Nearly 60 percent of home fire deaths resulted in fires in homes with either no smoke detectors, or inoperable smoke detectors.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates 94 percent of homes have at least one smoke alarm, and 50 percent of the home fire deaths occur in the 6 percent of homes with no smoke alarms. The NFPA recommends practicing home fire drills to be certain everyone is familiar with the smoke alarm signal and determine if there are any obstacles to a quick and safe evacuation.

Thomas said there are numerous reasons why smoke detectors are inoperable, including the batteries are dead, removed and repurposed in another electronic device, or removed because they are a so-called nuisance because of smoke from cooking or steam from showers. All these are reasons why the Fairfield Twp. Fire Department, as well as departments across the country, and the American Red Cross are pushing for 10-year smoke detectors. Thomas said “this is where the market’s headed.”

“We’re hoping to avoid the ‘no batteries in smoke detectors’ issue, or dead batteries,” said Thomas. “Statistically, we find a lot of that condition, and as the fire service in general we’re working to prevent that.”

Township residents can receive these 10-year litium ion-operated batteries for free through a partnership with the American Red Cross, but the department’s Fire Corps is making its way through the township a couple of streets a month.

The Fairfield Twp. Fire Department is targeting areas to replace batteries in smoke detectors — which should be done during daylight savings time changes.

“The new 10-year smoke detectors are designed to prevent (issues) because the batteries cannot be removed, and they have what’s called a ‘hush’ feature that places a detector in a standby mode for a pre-determined period of time before it returns to active status,” said Thomas. The “hush” feature, which is similar to a snooze button on an alarm clock, can be activated with a handle of a broom stick, he said.

Thomas said by replacing detectors with a 10-year detector, it eliminates maintenance for 10 full years, but monthly tests still must be conducted, also with the handle of a broom stick.

“They don’t have to get on a chair to change a battery, or test the alarm,” he said.

More smoke detectors are also required, Thomas said, as the code has evolved over the years. Thomas said fire codes require detectors to be installed outside every bedroom in the hallway, but also inside each bedroom.

Thomas said folks outside Fairfield Twp. should contact their local fire department to see if they have a smoke detector program. The Fairfield Twp. Fire Department can be reached at 513-887-4402.

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