The East Side apartment that turned into a blazing inferno, claiming the life of 7-year-old Alexavier Torres-Santiago on March 23, lacked a smoke alarm.
Five days earlier, 26-year-old Robert Ingram died in an apartment fire in the Main-Best neighborhood. There was no functioning smoke alarm in that apartment.
And just last Sunday, a man in his 60s died in a Bailey-Genesee fire. Once again, fire investigators are trying to determine if a functioning smoke alarm was in the residence.
These tragedies prompt Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. to urge residents to make sure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms as fire investigators look into whether legal action can be taken against the landlord of the apartment where the boy died at Fillmore Avenue and Woeppel Street.
“There are obviously laws governing buildings with landlords having smoke alarms in their rental properties, and that is something we are looking into,” Whitfield said.
A smoke alarm was in Ingram’s apartment, at 60 Pierce Court, in the Pilgrim Village public housing complex, but it was not operating on March 19, the commissioner said.
“We don’t know if it had been intentionally disabled,” Whitfield said of alarm. “But we do know that when we were called to the scene, the fire had already gone out. It was a tight space that didn’t get oxygen.”
At about 12:30 a.m. last Sunday, fire officials were called to 32 Kerns, which runs off Bailey Avenue, to investigate the odor of natural gas. When firefighters entered the home, they discovered a kitchen fire had “self extinguished” and that the smoke alarm may not have been functioning.
“The conditions here were similar to the fire at Pilgrim Village,” Whitfield said, adding that the man’s identity is being withheld until autopsy results are completed. “He was in a rear bedroom alone at the time.”
As for Alexavier, the absence of a smoke alarm allowed the family very little time to escape from the second-floor apartment in the early morning blaze. The boy was trapped in a rear bedroom that had once been an upper porch, Whitfield said.
“He died a terrible, terrible death,” Whitfield said.
The cause of that fire in the wood-framed structure remains undetermined, Whitfield said, “because of the tremendous damage.” It was so extensive, he added, “we’re unable to pinpoint the origin of the fire.”
Working smoke alarms, Whitfield said, “might have provided an opportunity for everyone to get out and might have saved lives in each of the blazes.”
Every year during Fire Prevention Week in October, the city distributes free smoke alarms through a program Mayor Byron W. Brown has set up, the commissioner said, but special arrangements can be made for anyone who may not have an alarm by calling the Fire Department at 851-5333, extension 319, Whitfield said.
“Our message is that smoke detectors save lives and they are very affordable and easily obtained,” he said. “They provide a tremendous amount of comfort and safety to you and your family.”