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Burnt House That Killed 7-Year-Old Had No Working Smoke Detector

By Meredith Hoffman | March 27, 2012 9:03am
FDNY determined there was no working smoke detector at 1066 Decatur Street at the time of the fire.
FDNY determined there was no working smoke detector at 1066 Decatur Street at the time of the fire.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

BUSHWICK—The Decatur Street house that caught fire in January, killing 7-year-old Joel Smith and injuring several other residents, lacked a working smoke detector—an issue found in most fatal fires, according to FDNY officials.

The Jan. 15 fire at 1066 Decatur St. broke out when someone in Smith's first-floor apartment fell asleep with a lit cigarette, FDNY officials said. The flames spread to the top two floors and to the adjacent building. Firefighters arrived just 2 1/2 minutes after it received the call, but the little boy had already passed out in the rear bedroom and was soon pronounced dead.

"In 70 percent of fatal fires, no working smoke detector is present," wrote FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer in an email. "Having a working smoke detector and checking it regularly is crucial to surviving a fire in the home."

Residents lamented that the child's death could have been prevented had the smoke detector been functional.

"Because of that one detail, that the smoke detector didn't work, the boy died," said neighbor Thaddeus Toombs, 56.  "The whole house burned. It was a loss."

Smith's mother Mia Smith and her fiance Eric Boyd are now living in a homeless shelter, according to a neighbor and close friend, Corey Young, who recalled the tragic night.

"They were having a birthday party for Mia," he said. "A gentleman had been drinking too much and fell asleep smoking a cigarette."

"When people drink too much they lose their sense of reality," said another neighbor, Eddie Rodriguez. "It's like, if you're drinking and smoking you know what's going to happen."

But Young, 20, said the real responsibility "falls on the failure of work by the landlord," since "smoke detectors should be in every American home."

"I haven't seen the landlord around since the fire," said Young. "Ever since it happened it seems like he's hiding out."

The owner of the building could not be reached immediately for comment.