Stamford Officials Back Detector Bill, Cite Fatal Christmas Day Fire

HARTFORD — In the past five years, there have been 376,000 residential building fires in the U.S., causing 2,600 civilian deaths.

Now one of those fires — and five of those deaths — are prompting a call for a new state law mandating smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in all residential buildings. Three young girls and their grandparents were killed in a Christmas Day fire in a Stamford house that was undergoing a renovation and appeared to have no working smoke detectors.

The legislature's public safety and security committee held a hearing on the proposal Tuesday. Several Stamford officials testified in support of the measure.

"I appeal to you in the name of public safety and security to mandate that all residential buildings be required to have properly working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and alarms," said Stamford's director of public safety, Thaddeus Jankowski. He said most fire deaths occur at night, in homes without a working smoke detector.

In 2005, lawmakers passed a bill mandating carbon monoxide detectors be installed in all new residential buildings but exempted one- or two-family homes. The new proposal would amend that law to require smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in all residential homes, regardless of the number of families they house. It would also require working detectors and alarms homes underdoing renovations, if those homes are occupied at the time.

The measure sets a fine of $200 to $1,000 or imprisonment of six months or less, or both, for those who fail to comply. But the proposal does not specify how the mandate would be enforced.

Sen. Scott Frantz, a Republican from Greenwich, generally takes a dim view of government regulations and mandates, but he strongly supports a law requiring smoke detectors.

"It's the best insurance policy ... for $10 ... on average ... you can have a smoke detector,'' he said. "For about $15, $17, you can have a CO detector shipped to you ... and know that you are going to be warned well in advance of a fire or a CO situation."

Smoke detectors give residents a crucial jump start in escaping a burning building, officials said. Smoke and toxic fumes from a fire can dull the senses, making it even less likely that sleeping residents will awaken, they said.

The Christmas fire that took the lives of Lily Badger, 9, and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace Badger and their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, left a devastating mark on the city of Stamford.

"This horrific fire has reverberated through my department, the screams and pleas of the mother to rescue her family the site of the house being totally consumed and all firefighting efforts just not being enough to save the three children and their grandparents will haunt Stamford firefighters forever,'' Antonio Conte, Stamford fire chief. "Christmas will never be the same."

Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said he was appealing to the committee "in the name of public safety and security, please don't let the deaths of Lily Badger or her twin sisters Sarah and Grace or her grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson be in vain.''

Silver Alert

The committee also heard testimony on a bill that would allow information about a person who is missing from a state-run psychiatric facility to be freely shared in order to help locate the person. The state has a system, called Silver Alert, that notifies law enforcement if a person older than 65 or mentally impaired is missing. The system is not always activated, however.

While some speakers said the bill raises privacy concerns, Margarita Torres, the mother of a mentally ill man who walked away from Connecticut Valley Hospital during a fresh-air break in 2010, spoke in favor of the measure. The body of her son, Aaron Torres, was discovered on a Long Island beach 16 months later.

"Several months into Aaron's disappearance I heard about the Silver Alert system,'' she said. "Yet it was not issued. … With a Silver Alert, he may have been found."

Mixed Martial Arts

Once again the committee is considering a bill that would legalize and regulate the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts.

MMA is an intense and increasingly popular sport that blends boxing, wrestling, karate, ju-jitsu and other forms of fighting. Matches are not permitted in Connecticut, but state lawmakers are considering a bill that would sanction such contests, provided they are regulated and the ticket revenue is taxed.

A similar measure came up for a hearing during the last legislative session but failed to win passage.

MMA promoters testified that matches would generate tax revenue and generate economic activity.

Cameras On Cars

The public safety committee also reviewed a bill to establish an insurance and vehicle registration system that would use cameras to detect vehicles that are uninsured or unregistered and assess fines on the owners of such vehicles.

Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, urged lawmakers to amend the measure to address privacy concerns.

"Specific time limits should be placed on how long police departments can keep the data on file before discarding it,'' Schneider said in written testimony provided to the committee. "This will allow police to use the information for legitimate crime-fighting purposes while preventing abuse."

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