How to help your Philly neighbors get free smoke alarms installed

More than 20 Philadelphians have died in fires so far this year, and over 300 residents have been displaced.

In January, firefighters responded quickly, but there were no working smoke alarms in this Fairmount rowhome where 12 people died. A recent fire in Kensington killed four, and again there was a lack of smoke detectors.

In January, firefighters responded quickly, but there were no working smoke alarms in this Fairmount rowhome where 12 people died. A recent fire in Kensington killed four, and again there was a lack of smoke detectors.

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
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After a Kensington rowhouse fire killed a father and his three sons over the weekend, fire safety is back on the minds of city residents. The rental property the family was living in had no smoke detectors. That was also the situation in the Fairmount fire that killed 12 in January, where all but one basement detector was inoperable.

Already this year, 21 Philadelphians have died in fires, and over 300 residents have been displaced because of them, a tally that troubles fire safety professionals.

“Philadelphia has a fire problem, and we need your help,” Fire Chief Adam Thiel said on Monday, “because fire is everyone’s fight.”.

How can you help? Because installing detectors requires entering someone’s home, the resident or residents themselves will need to be involved in the process. But several organizations in Philly are willing to do it free of charge, and the application is not complicated.

If you know someone who needs smoke alarms, or more information on fire safety, here are a few ways to help get them connected to resources.

Red Cross of Southeastern Pa.

Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania will install smoke alarms for free, and that can be requested via an online form. You can offer that to neighbors or help them fill it out.

The chapter is planning an in-person fire safety drive in the coming weeks, where volunteers will install alarms and educate residents on what to do in case of a fire emergency. The program will tour the region throughout the month, and the Philly date is May 6, when they’ll be meeting in Wissinoming Park, and doing installations from morning into the afternoon.

The Red Cross recommends that the alarms are tested monthly, in line with most fire safety dictates. Another key is to have a set evacuation plan that’s actually practiced by occupants of a home.

Philadelphia Fire Department

The Philadelphia Fire Department has had a smoke alarm program in place for homeowners for years, and it’s as simple as calling 311. There’s a wait of roughly 60 days, but if you inform PFD, they’ll come and install the appropriate amount of smoke alarms — one on each floor, including the basement.

“We will install smoke alarms for any Philadelphia resident who asks,” Kathy Matheson, communications director for PFD, told Billy Penn.

If someone doesn’t want to call 311 or use its associated app, an online form to request smoke alarms is also available for residents or concerned neighbors to work through together.

Renters without smoke alarms have another reason to reach out to the service line, as landlords are legally mandated to have the correct amount of smoke alarms installed. It’s not a cost renters are responsible for, no matter what lease arrangement is in place.

If you are a renter and don’t have enough smoke alarms, 311 is the number to call to report the violation.

Philadelphia Housing Authority

PHA takes on the duty of providing proper smoke alarms and placement in the units under their stewardship — which number more than 13,000 across the city.

If you know of a unit where there aren’t any properly working smoke alarms, contact the agency, or have the residents do so.

In January, when the tragic Fairmount Fire took place in a PHA site, Housing Authority CEO Kelvin Jeremiah reminded residents in public housing that they’re able to reach out to PHA.

“If you have any issues with your fire alarms, if it doesn’t have batteries, if it needs to be replaced, please contact our customer response center and they will be happy to provide you with a new alarm,” he said.

Smoke alarms are not the only tool in the fire safety arsenal, and the city has a variety of different requirements regarding fire extinguishers, escapes, and sprinklers based on unit size and changing regulations.

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