Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Loopholes,' Lack of Smoke Detectors Led to Erie Fire

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Loopholes,' Lack of Smoke Detectors Led to Erie Fire

Article excerpt

Days after five children died in an overnight fire at an in-home child care center, Erie officials blamed a lack of working smoke detectors and "loopholes" that left the center uninspected in terms of fire protection.

Erie Fire Chief Guy Santone said that the center was grandfathered in from registering with the city as a child care facility and that state Department of Human Services inspections cover other aspects of child safety - but not smoke detectors.

"We were not aware there was a family day care there," he said at a news conference Tuesday.

State Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, plans to introduce a bill mandating the Department of Human Services to review use of smoke detectors during its annual inspections of child care facilities.

He put forth a memo calling for co-sponsors Tuesday.

"My heart breaks for the family," Mr. Laughlin said in a phone interview. "My goal is to honor the lives of the children."

Elaine Harris, the owner of Harris Family Daycare, remained in critical condition in Pittsburgh, according to a statement from Erie officials.

The cause of the early Sunday fire has not been officially announced, but Chief Santone said officials believe it was electrical in nature and an accident.

"I'm not blaming anybody. All I know is there's some loopholes, and we have to close them up," Chief Santone said.

Chief Santone thanked all the agencies involved in the response, including his own team of responders who tried to save the children.

"These are the firefighters that tried to save the babies that night," he said.

DHS inspects child care facilities annually, according to the department, "to ensure compliance with health and safety standards."

The regulations relating to fire safety address "exits, space heaters, fire places, wood burning/coal burning stoves, and fire drills," according to a department statement, but not "the presence and functionality of smoke detectors." If the department observes a fire safety violation, it will request additional inspections, officials said in a statement. …

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