Five fire fatalities sounds alarm for Lancaster County first-responders, plan to improve safety education underway


EAST HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — Five people have died in fires in Lancaster County alone, so far in 2020.

A lack of smoke detectors has been the common thread among the fires, causing fire officials to take swift action to overhaul fire safety county-wide.

There isn’t a fully-formed plan yet, but officials say they have the right men for the job.

“We’ve got all the important players together to try to figure out what is this plan going to look like moving forward — so we can do a better job to try and prevent some of these tragedies,” said Duane Hagelgans, vice president of the Lancaster County Fire Chief Association.

The first lesson is understanding what exactly makes fires dangerous.

“Most people perish in fires do so because of just a few short breaths of hot toxic smoke,” said Chief Scott Little, Lancaster City Bureau of Fire.

“Our modern homes are filled with synthetic materials that burn hotter and faster than ever, and that leaves people with an average of two minutes to safely exit,” said Paul Vezzetti, deputy director of communications, Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

Those two minutes could be aided if residents spend a few minutes taking time to make a fire safety plan, participate in fire company demonstrations and the big one — install smoke detectors.

“Recent fires we’ve had — the biggest thing we want to talk about is having smoke detectors, being able to hear them when you sleep and having your bedroom door closed,” said Benjamin Herskowitz, assistant fire chief of Hempfield Fire Company.

“The best recommendations [are] one per floor and every single bedroom of the home,” said Chief Douglas Kemmerly, Columbia Borough Fire Department.

Every bedroom in Lancaster could have smoke detectors, but to sleep soundly, everyone should know what to do before a fire ever ignites.

“While help from our local fire companies may only be minutes away — these are the most critical minutes,” Little said.

The Lancaster County Firemen’s Association is planning a safety breakfast, where two members of every fire company in the county will be invited to share ideas and learn about the best ways to promote fire safety.

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