City fire chief stresses importance of working smoke detectors

The Watertown Fire Department #1’s engine rig sits in the garage of the department. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Fire Chief Dale C. Herman is worried that people have ignored warnings about keeping smoke detectors working since a tragic fire that killed four sisters and their father last Valentine’s Day.

The city Fire Department took steps immediately after the Feb. 14, 2019, fire to inform people about making sure that smoke detectors operated.

They also were focused on public awareness about the hazards of leaving stoves and ovens unattended while cooking.

While the five victims who died in the fire are commemorated, the fire chief is worried people might not remember that smoke detectors in the house at 906 Myrtle Ave. weren’t working.

The fire was blamed on unattended cooking on a stove.

Fire officials said two smoke detectors in the home were inoperable because the batteries had been removed from the devices.

It seems people are not listening to calls by firefighters to check and see if smoke detectors work in their homes, the fire chief said. The last three fires in the city — all considered minor incidents — involved cooking.

After the Valentine’s Day tragedy last year, people quickly went back to their “normal routines,” he said.

The fire chief hopes that the city will include setting aside some money in its Community Development Block Grant program to purchase smoke detectors that would be given out to low- and moderate-income families who might not be able to purchase one at a cost of about $20.

In the wake of last year’s fatal fire on Myrtle Avenue, the Watertown Firefighters Benevolent Association gave away 500 smoke detectors.

The American Red Cross North Country Chapter also gives away smoke detectors as part of its year-round efforts.

The fire department also appointed Capt. Andy Naklick as a temporary fire educator; he also attended some fire prevention training at the National Fire Academy.

Chief Herman said firefighters, city police and ambulance personnel who responded to the Myrtle Avenue fire will be thinking about the five victims on the tragedy’s one-year anniversary.

“They certainly will be thinking about the tragedy,” he said.

Meanwhile, the burnt-out house has undergone a major renovation. Work on redoing the four-bedroom house was recently completed.

On Monday, the city’s Code Enforcement office issued a certificate of compliance on the property, allowing it to be habitable again.

The house is owned by Viola E. Marcinkowski, Vienna, Va. She could not be reached for comment.

Melissa Davey, the mother of four girls who died in the Feb. 14, 2019 blaze, said she doesn’t begrudge the owner for wanting to renovate the house from the ashes.

The house should be able to be rented again and the owner make an income from it, she said.

“I have no problems with it,” she said.

In September, Kayla M. Babyak, whose father and four sisters died in the fire, filed a lawsuit against the property owner claiming the house was not equipped with operable smoke detectors.

The Sunny Hills, Fla., resident who is serving as the administrator of the estate of Aaron J. Bodah, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ms. Marcinkowski.

The suit is still pending.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment


People who leave cooking unattended or are reckless with lit cigarettes are also people who are constantly setting off the smoke detector for "false alarms". Which is why they take the batteries out.

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