Just after midnight on Monday, four adults and three children escaped from a fire at their apartment building in Waterville.

Fire officials credit functioning smoke detectors with saving their lives.

Ten minutes earlier and about 60 miles away, another house fire was reported in Lisbon. Richard A. Davis dialed 911 for help, but then wasn’t able to get out of the house and died in his bedroom from smoke inhalation.

There was no working smoke detector in the house. Had there been, fire officials say, it could have saved his life.

The cause of the fires in Waterville and Lisbon were different, although both were accidental, but the real difference — the difference between life and death — was that the Waterville families were alerted to the danger by a piercing siren that woke them up, giving them time to escape.

Davis did not have that early warning, and he died.


This is the second fatal fire in Lisbon in less than a year.

Last March, in Lisbon Falls, two young sisters died in a pre-dawn fire that started as they slept. There was no working smoke detector in their home, and the girls were trapped in a bedroom on an upper floor as their four siblings and injured mother scrambled to escape.

Fire officials there were so rattled by the lack of smoke detectors that they contacted every household in town (that’s 4,388 people) to ask whether every one had a working detector installed in their home. If not, the Fire Department offered to bring out a detector and install it at no charge.

That offer was made to Davis, but he never returned the message from the FD to accept the invitation.

There’s no way to know whether a detector would have spared Davis, but it would have given him a significantly better chance of escape. His death, according to Lisbon Fire Chief P. Sean Galipeau, “is a tragedy.”

Davis — described as a kind man who struggled with poor health and financial problems — was Maine’s first fire fatality in 2012. But, if we rely on the lessons of history, he won’t be the last.


Maine’s average number of fire deaths in the past decade has been 17 people each year, which matches the national average per capita. However, last year, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety, 23 died from fire, more than double the number of deaths the previous year.

Last year’s high death rate is a statistic we can reverse.

A majority of all fatal fires happen at night, while we’re sleeping, so while it is certainly cliche to say that smoke detectors save lives, it is not a platitude.

Fire moves fast, smoke kills and the surest and cheapest warning available is a smoke detector — especially when we’re fast asleep.

If your family or anyone you know does not have at least one such a device, get one.

It won’t prevent a fire, but it could save a life.


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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

According to state fire officials, most people who die in Maine fires are in a home without a working smoke detector.

Most of the fire departments in Maine offer reduced-price or free smoke detectors to residents of their communities, so check with your town office for information.

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