Belmont chief sees disabled smoke detectors in multi-family buildings as a growing problem

BELMONT — Fire Chief David Parenti is sounding the alarm regarding rental properties that do not meet the state's fire codes.
Parenti, whose department inspects rentals properties of all sizes for fire codes compliance, said he has been seeing enough instances of renters and landlords filing complaints regarding disabled smoke detectors to call it to the public's attention.
"It's a pervasive problem I've seen during my time in fire service," Parenti said. "The early notification of a fire that is provided by residential smoke detectors is one of the most important factors in surviving a fire in a residential unit."
He said his department learning about a lack of compliance comes from two sources — sometimes a tenant will report that the landlord will not fix or install smoke detectors and sometimes the landlord will report that tenants continually disconnect them.
He also said the fire department will learn of issues when they respond to rental properties for medical calls and other reasons.
He said the fire department typically mediates the situation through letters and phone calls and 90 percent of the time the problem is resolved.
Parenti also said he is working on a Belmont-specific ordinance that governs smoke detectors that would be largely the N.H. State Fire Code as well as issues that are specific to Belmont's needs. Once finished, he said the ordinance would have to go through town meeting.
He also said that smoke detectors are mandatory by state law in multiple-family units of three or more and that disabling a smoke detector in one of those units is a misdemeanor crime.
Parenti also wanted to remind residents of multi-family units to leave the building when the alarms sound. He used last Sunday's fire in Laconia as an example of how it should work — the alarm went off and people left the building.
"Look how fast that fire spread," he said, noting Laconia Chief Ken Erickson had noted that it was a toxic fire whose smoke could quickly overcome someone who didn't evacuate immediately.
He said too many times local firefighters will get an alarm from a multi-family building and discover people in the building who heard the alarm, told firefighters that it goes off all the time, and yet chose not to leave.
He said any one who wants to schedule a courtesy inspection should call 267-8333.