🔒I-TEAM: 33% spike in deaths in homes that caught fire without smoke detectors

Free smoke alarms available in Duval County, but public unaware of program

In the last five years, 67% of the homes that caught on fire in Duval County did not have smoke detectors, costing the people inside precious time to escape.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There is no question a smoke detector provides an early warning of danger in homes that catch fire, increasing your chances of getting out alive.

Yet the I-TEAM has discovered, through data provided by Jacksonville Fire Rescue, that from 2016-2020, 67% of homes that caught fire in Duval County did not have a working smoke detector.

In that same period, fire-related deaths increased by 33% from 2016 to 2020 in homes where no smoke detector was present, JFRD stats show.

We also found that the areas of Duval County where most of those deaths happened in the last year were near downtown Jacksonville and in the northwest part of the county. In the last five years, 23 people have died and 140 have been hurt in fires where no smoke detector was found in the home.

Last June, a 64-year-old man died when his Mayport home caught fire. JFRD said his body was found near the front door and that he had trouble walking and did not have enough time to get out. Fire Chief Keith Powers said there was no smoke detector in the home and insists that an alarm can give someone valuable time by alerting them early.

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Powers said early warning is critical since newer homes and homes with newer furniture tend to burn faster and hotter when they catch fire. Newer furniture is often filled with synthetic fabric and new homes are being built with materials that can be more flammable.

When a JFRD captain walked through the rubble of the fire that destroyed several units Monday at the Jacksonville Heights Apartment complex on the Westside, he found half of the units did not have a smoke detector. Of the other six, Capt. Eric Proswimmer said only three had working smoke detectors. Three others had been disabled.

The city of Jacksonville has a program that offers a free smoke detector to Duval County residents, but Powers does not think enough people are aware of it. The I-TEAM rode along with a crew from Station 30 as it installed free smoke alarms in three local homes.

“I realized we didn’t have any, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh most people die from smoke inhalation. They don’t even know there is a fire,’” Heather Ivec said.

She called the city to make an appointment to have JFRD install a free smoke alarm after watching a News4Jax interview Powers did about the program.

Carol Medina watched the same interview and called the city for a free smoke detector, too. She had a recent scare in her home.

“I was in the living room and all of a sudden, the smoke poured out of it and that horrible smoke smell,” she described. A lamp started smoking. She was able to unplug it and it stopped, but she said her smoke alarm never sounded.

The crew from Station 30 checked it, and it is working, but they installed a smoke detector as an added protection for the elderly woman.

JFRD said the purpose of the city program is to reduce the risk of injury and death, and it will do whatever it can to help ensure residents have a working smoke detector.

“I’ve gotten calls from elderly people with high ceilings who shouldn’t be climbing up ladders. It’s nothing for us to drive out, do it and change the battery and help out our neighbors,” Proswimmer said.

If you would like to make an appointment to have a free smoke detector installed in your home, call 630-CITY (2489). Remember Duval County residents only.

The fire department is aware that this story may generate a lot of calls and asks that residents please be patient with them as they fill each request.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.