Letters to the editor - CT Post

December  2007

Responsibility is the Key for Survival

While no one person will ever know all the details of the tragic fire which took the lives of two parents, one of their children while leaving two others orphaned, speeches like the one given by Monsignor Aniceto Villamide do little to help the community prevent further such tragedies. In his speech the Monsignor blames poverty rather than personal responsibility as a major factor in fire deaths.

Fire does not care about wealth, race, sex, age, sexual preference or any other factor that makes any one an individual. Personal responsibility and preparedness are two major factors which separate those who are more likely to be survivors instead of victims. Well working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, well placed fire extinguishers and multiple escape plans are three important items to have in place at all times. While the smoke detector by the kitchen or bathroom seems to be an annoyance, disabling or removing it for extended periods of time puts many lives at risk.

The Monsignor goes on to say “People who live in mansions don’t die from fires. It’s the poor who die and are left homeless” as if wealth determines who lives and dies. While I agree that poorer people are at a greater risk, being poor does not mean one is doomed to being a victim. Multi-family homes which many poorer people reside generally pose a greater risk than most single family homes simply because “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”; or in other words, the least responsible tenant subjects everyone to a greater risk.

Smaller apartments may only have two or even one smoke detector which seems to be going off all the time, while a larger house should have multiple detectors, some of which almost never attract any attention. Forgetting to re-enable the one smoke detector in a small apartment can be a fatal mistake while in a larger house smoke will hopefully be detected by another detector. Also renters may feel that the landlord is responsible for maintaining the batteries while the landlord feels such is the tenants’ responsibility. As one who has rented, I replaced the batteries myself, knowing that the consequences of loosing that argument could be deadly.

With regard to the Monsignor’s plea for more laws – what good are laws if they are neither obeyed nor enforceable? There are laws which mandate smoke detectors, their maintenance and buildings are periodically inspected. If people are going to disable annoying smoke detectors, “borrow” or take batteries from such units for other purposes or ignore the chirping sounds warning of low battery life, then there will simply be more deaths due to fire, plain and simple.

It does not matter if one is rich or poor; a well maintained smoke detector is an excellent investment with regard to wealth and health. When I first bought my house in 1996 I made the effort to place a few smoke detectors throughout the house. A few minutes after a nearby lightning strike an annoying sound came from my basement. Upon opening the basement door I yelled for everyone to get out of the house and I called the fire department. A $15 smoke detector with a $3 battery made the difference between a couple hundred dollars and several thousand dollars damage for me.

Rather than simply say “someone should…”, I feel that you Monsignor Aniceto Villamide are that someone! As a leader in the church, YOU could organize a drive where churches in richer communities could donate batteries and smoke detectors for distribution at churches in poorer communities. While doing such will reduce the effects of poverty, also remind the people that the difference between life and death is now their responsibility.