Fire is everyone's concern

With six more civilians killed in Philadelphia fires recently — a total of 14 for the year — and the loss of two decorated firefighters in the Kensington warehouse blaze, it's clear that fire should be everyone's concern.

There are still too many people without working smoke alarms in their homes. Their proper installation and maintenance, including fresh batteries twice a year, as well as developing and practicing a home escape plan, could be the difference between life and death. Philadelphia families who cannot afford a smoke alarm can get a free unit by calling the Fire Department hotline at 215-686-1176.

When it comes to statistics about vacant-building fires, Philadelphia's own brave fallen firefighters will sadly take their place in the records. Between 2003 and 2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 31,000 structure fires in vacant buildings each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Those fires resulted in an annual average of 50 civilian deaths, 141 civilian injuries, and $642 million in direct property damage. Fifteen firefighters were fatally injured at vacant building fires from 1998 to 2007.

NFPA's Fire Code requires owners or those responsible for vacant properties to "remove waste and combustible materials and to secure the building to prevent unauthorized people from entering. Fire protection systems are to be maintained unless the authority having jurisdiction grants permission to have them removed from service."

We applaud government efforts to secure buildings and support stricter penalties against those who do not care for their properties.

Patricia Porter, president and CEO, Burn Foundation, Philadelphia, pporter@burnfoundation.org

Hold L&I accountable

It was heart-wrenching to read coverage of the burials of the two firefighters killed in a horrific Kensington warehouse fire ("Two fallen Philadelphia firefighters are mourned," April 14). As with so many other tragedies of this kind, there has been an outcry to identify and punish those responsible. Of course, the owners of the building will be investigated. The Inquirer has called for an investigation into the way the inferno was handled.

Don't forget the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections. L&I repeatedly cited the warehouse's owners for neglecting to inspect and seal the building, but the citations were ignored. Neighbors repeatedly complained about the condition of the building as well as how easily tresspassers gained entrance. All to no avail. In other cities, the proper authorities would have seized the warehouse and sealed it themselves.

In other words, the loss of life and property probably could have been avoided.

Jack Butler, Philadelphia

Focus on costs of health care

One thing conspicuously missing in the discussions of the Affordable Care Act is any example of how it is intended to reduce overall health-care costs. Aside from removing money from Medicare, presumably from providers' pockets, there is nothing said about reducing medical costs.

The use of insurance companies as a "flow-thru" vehicle for costs is not "cost reduction." It's unknown if costs will withstand the expanded sphere of mandated coverage. The 10 million or more who would not otherwise buy coverage may not provide the funds that allow insurers to pay their obligations.

Then there is the matter of "affordability," a term used by politicians, not insurance providers, as a possible eventual vehicle to a single-payer (government) model — probably after insurers have been driven away by political agendas woven around "affordability."

With the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that the health-care act will add $1.76 trillion in federal expenditures through 2022, one must focus on costs because, right now, they don't seem to be lessening.

Mort Bauer, Paoli

Pay fair share of care

Where are all of those Republicans who oppose the new health-care law and are for individual freedoms when you need them? When are they going to champion my individual freedom to pay lower health-care costs? Why have I not heard their solution to make those who use the health-care system, but pay nothing for it, contribute their fair share?

Joseph Shuster, Broomall

Ocean City and BYOB

Thank you for the insightful article "Ocean City risks much with BYOB" (April 15). Some time ago, my family stopped going to Wildwood in favor of Ocean City and some of the other Shore towns. We were tired of the rowdiness on the boardwalk, the open drinking, mostly by teenagers, and the lack of attempts to maintain a family atmosphere. We no longer felt that it was safe to let our children out of our sight.

For many years, we have been thrilled with Ocean City. If the proposal to allow BYOB restaurants is passed, it is easy to predict the slippery slope that will occur. This will blossom into, "People are already drinking here, so why can't we put in a bar?" And since the precedent will have been set, that will pass as well. Unfortunately, the whole ambience and the reasons so many families choose Ocean City for their vacation will change, and not for the better.

Claire Donohue, Philadelphia, cpdono@aol.com

Nothing to celebrate

The retirement of the space shuttle Discovery certainly is not something to celebrate ("Discovery nears new home," Wednesday).

Our government's decision to relinquish our lead in space exploration is appalling. To have to depend on Russia to put our astronauts into space is embarrassing, to say the least. They do not like us, but they sure like the money we will have to pay them for this service.

In a time of such high unemployment, this decision has cost thousands of jobs at Cape Kennedy and the surrounding area. The ripple effect has had a devastating impact on the area commercially and economically. Shopping areas have closed. Homes have been abandoned and foreclosed upon.

Then there is the scientific loss. Just think about the benefits of the things we use every day in our homes and the medical advancements that have resulted from our space program. What is our government thinking?

The government wants to turn space exploration over to the "private sector" and its greedy CEOs. I can see where this will take us.

I grew up with stories by Jules Verne, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (and now we have nuclear subs), and From the Earth to the Moon (and we have actually been there). What is next? Enemy Mine? Avatar? It is scary to think about.

Charles Rager, Philadelphia

Dog-eat-dog world of politics

Can we ask the political class to muzzle their recently unleashed and dogged barking about whether Democrats or Republicans are dogs' best friends? According to our little pooch, canine fur is equally ruffled by howling donkeys and pachyderms!

Jack Penders, Media