Sacto 9-1-1
April 25, 2008
City effort to promote working smoke detectors

Off-duty Sacramento City firefighters and city officials, including City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, will be going door-to-door Saturday morning to help install smoke detectors in a south Oak Park neighborhood.

The event is an effort to promote having working smoke detectors in homes, according to Chris Harvey, spokesman for the Firefighters for Sacramento City group.

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a barbecue featuring children's activities at Maple Elementary School, 3011 37th Ave.

The effort is part of a community awareness campaign to inform residents about the importance having a working smoke detector in every home. On. Jan. 6, 2007, a fire resulted in the deaths of two young children in Sacramento's Avondale neighborhood.

Following is The Bee's story about the incident and the creation of a task force to deal with the issue:

By Christina Jewett

Sacramento's mayor and fire officials announced the creation of a task force Monday that they hope will ensure a smoke detector is installed and working in every Sacramento residence.

The announcement came two days after a Saturday morning fire in south Sacramento that killed siblings Annie Bienh, 9, and Kyle Bienh, 7, and left their grandmother in critical condition with severe burns. Officials are still investigating the cause of the fire but say it is the second blaze within a year to kill two young children.

"We want to do whatever we can to avoid this kind of tragedy in our city," Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo said at a City Hall news conference Monday.

The last fire that killed two children ripped through a mobile home off Florin Road on May 9. Siblings Brandon Sobb, 3, and Lexis Sobb, 4, died in the fire that melted a fire detector that the children's mother had bought but not yet installed.

Officials say there is no indication that a smoke alarm sounded during Saturday's fire in the Avondale neighborhood, but they're still probing to see if one was installed.

The morning after the fire, Sacramento Fire Chief Julius Cherry called spokesman Jim Doucette, asking him to lead a task force to see working smoke detectors in each of Sacramento's 200,000 dwellings.

Doucette said the task poses many challenges: determining which homes do not have working detectors, as well as reaching out to non-English-speaking residents.

Fargo said the task force could use the resources of the city's parks and neighborhood services departments, and also tap into faith-based, business and neighborhood watch groups.

Fargo said any business or individual who wants to donate money to the effort or ask for information can call the city operator at (916) 264-5011.

About half of the roughly 3,000 people nationally who died in fires in 2005 perished in homes that did not have smoke detectors, according to data complied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Assistant Fire Chief Forrest Adams said firefighters routinely check for smoke detectors during calls for service but have no comprehensive outreach.

"The Fire Department has been doing this for 30 years using conventional methods," Adams said. "We need to do it better."

The topic of rental-housing safety was addressed by the City Council in March, when Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell called for a thorough, citywide inspection program of all rental units, which are required to have working smoke detectors.

Sacramento Vice Mayor Kevin McCarty said he was disappointed that the ordinance failed after rental and real-estate business associations said the city code already was strong enough. Instead, the groups backed a pilot program.

That program has operated for about three months in the Dixieanne neighborhood of North Sacramento and the central Oak Park area, said Max Fernandez, an official with the city's Neighborhood Services Department.

Code inspectors scan rental properties for outside appearance of disrepair, and go into the most dilapidated ones, seeking health and safety violations, including the absence of working smoke detectors.

Inspectors make a list of problems and check back in 30 days, prepared to levy fines. Fernandez said officials plan to analyze the effectiveness of the program and report the findings to the City Council this spring.

McCarty said he plans to champion a full expansion of the program again.

He said opponents of the program note that renters can report code problems -- but said Saturday's fire shows that vulnerable residents do not uniformly take advantage of the option.

"That's why it's incumbent on local government to be sure rental properties are safe," he said.

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