October is Fire Prevention Month, and a recent fatal fire in in East Nottingham Township, not far from Philadelphia, tragically demonstrates how there is much work to be done to improve fire safety in Pennsylvania.

Despite being only the fifth largest state in the country, Pennsylvania currently ranks third for civilian fire deaths, trailing only much larger California and New York. As of Oct. 19, there have been 101 fire deaths in Pennsylvania in 2018. Winter, usually the busiest time for home fires and fire deaths, has yet to begin in earnest, and Pennsylvania is already dangerously close to overtaking the 2017 death toll of 112.

Fire deaths can be traced to a myriad of factors, but one of the most common is a lack of working smoke alarms. Fire departments, inspectors, and other experts have long made smoke alarm installation and maintenance a cornerstone of their public safety and education programs. Fatal fires – especially in private residences – often involve the lack of working smoke alarms. Put another way, working smoke alarms save lives.

Despite robust public education efforts, firefighters frequently encounter homes with installed, yet inoperative smoke alarms. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most common is that residents simply forget to change the batteries regularly. Forgetting to replace a dead battery should not result in tragedy and death.

There is a simple, proven solution. Smoke alarms with sealed-in, non-removable batteries capable of lasting for 10 years are widely available from different manufacturers and are a tested technology. These alarms are effectively impossible to disable and require virtually no maintenance during their lifespans. Put simply, they are much less likely to leave a home defenseless than older alarms with removable batteries. This 10-year technology should be the standard for all battery-powered smoke alarms.

The numbers do not lie: according to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of every five home fire-deaths occur in a home without smoke alarms or working smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms are critical in reducing the number of fire deaths in Pennsylvania. All residents, landlords, and anybody who maintains a home in Pennsylvania should ensure their smoke alarms are in proper working order, and if possible, opt for 10-year alarms with sealed-in batteries. 

Don Konkle, a former Harrisburg fire chief, is currently executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire & Emergency Services Institute (PFESI).