Five children were killed in a weekend fire at their daycare in Erie. The tragedy will — no doubt — change the community forever, but one lawmaker is hoping that fire will also change Pennsylvania forever.
Investigators believe Sunday’s overnight fire was likely caused by an overloaded extension cord. They said only one detector — in the attic — was working at the time of the fire.
The five victims were children between the ages of 9 months and 8 years. Their caretakers, Harris Family Daycare was licensed. In fact, it passed an inspection, despite only having one working smoke detector — state law requires more.
“It”s in the building code, but’s it’s not exactly something the inspectors look for,” said Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie County).
Laughlin wants to change that. He’s calling for a state probe into the deaths and wants to create legislation that requires daycares to verify that they have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
“We need a longer term fix and a statewide fix, because there are facilities like this throughout Pennsylvania, and nobody wants to see this happen again,” Laughlin said.
Harrisburg Fire Chief Brian Enterline agrees wholeheartedly. He said Pennsylvania is in the top three states for fire fatalities every year.
“It’s because of our lax sprinkler regulations, and it’s because of the lax regulations that we have to enforce the code,” Enterline said.
He said Harrisburg requires all licensed daycares to have smoke detectors and sprinklers in every room where a child sleeps, but admits that throughout state and even nationwide, unlicensed daycares can slip through the cracks.
“You have a house and you open it up to a couple of friends — there’s no way the state inspectors or local inspectors are ever going to find out about that,” Enterline said.
Enterline is in Laughlin and Erie’s corner. He hopes young lives lost will not be in vain.