Merski/Harkins bills would strengthen regs to prevent repeat of deadly fire

Would require DHS inspections, interconnected smoke detectors in child care homes

ERIE, Nov. 7 – By strengthening inspection and equipment requirements governing smoke detectors in child care facilities, a two-bill package introduced by state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, would help prevent a repeat of the tragic fire that claimed the lives of five Erie children at a day care center earlier this year.

One bill would require the state Department of Human Services to check all smoke detectors during its annual inspections of child care facilities and ensure that written emergency plans, fire log drills and posted evacuation notices are in place.

A second bill would require child care facilities throughout the state to maintain smoke detectors on every floor that are interconnected via hardwire, Bluetooth or any other means that would allow for communications between the devices.

“Although state law requires that child care facilities have smoke detectors on every floor, the law does not go far enough – either in terms of inspections or equipment,” Merski said. “While DHS inspects child care facilities for various health and safety issues, state law has not previously mandated that the agency inspect for working smoke detectors. Our bill would change that. It also would require facilities to maintain interconnected smoke detectors so that, regardless of where a fire started, occupants on every floor could be warned with enough time to escape.”  

Harkins added that the proposed legislation is a top priority for both lawmakers.

“There are few things more important than protecting the lives of the people we represent, and that duty is doubly urgent when it involves our community’s children,” Harkins said. “With this new bill, we’ve taken steps to ensure that a tragedy like the one we saw earlier this year never happens again in Erie – or elsewhere in the state.”

Harris Family Daycare – the facility that was the site of August’s fatal fire – had just one smoke detector, located in the attic. Because the day care facility was registered with the state but not with the city – as the result of a loophole in the law – it had not been inspected by the city for smoke detectors.