Georgia: renters responsible for smoke detectors - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Georgia: renters, not landlords, responsible for ensuring home has smoke detectors

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DALTON, GA. (WRCB) -- Between her mother-in-law's asthma, and her father-in-law's history of stroke and heart attacks, Rebecca Hunter says both would have had a tough time getting out of any fire in the shotgun house they've been renting on Griffin Street in Dalton for the past seven months.

"She tried to get to him and was unable to," Hunter says. "So she ended up getting turned around, and by then, she already had collapsed."

Firefighters had to rescue both, when the home caught fire just before midnight Wednesday. They remain in a burn center in Augusta; his stepfather in critical condition, his mother's condition guarded, Rebecca's husband, Michael Hunter says.

Investigators believe the fire began in a living room couch. They have not determined whether a smoldering cigarette or a space heater ignited it.

Complicating matters, "there was no smoke detector at all in the house," Dalton Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield says.

Had next door neighbor Louis Mendez not heard the windows breaking from the heat of the fire, "neither of my in-laws would be with us today," Rebecca Hunter says.

Mendez hesitates in calling himself a hero. He's even more reluctant to appear on camera Thursday, but says his rental home also lacks smoke detectors and a furnace; space heaters are the only way to keep warm.

Channel 3 has been unable to reach the landlord, Jeff Gowan.

Tennessee law requires landlords to equip rental homes and apartments with smoke alarms or detectors.

But in Georgia?

"When it comes to residences, there's very little enforcement that we can do," Chief Satterfield says.

For at least 20 years, new residential and commercial construction has been required to have smoke alarms hard-wired into electrical systems. Landlords are required to install such alarms in every unit of apartment complexes.

Not so, for single family rental homes and duplexes.

"The State of Georgia requires the occupant be held responsible for making sure the alarms are in place," Chief Satterfield says.

Failure to do so? A $25 fine.

"It's hardly a deterrent, but we'd much rather keep people safe than collect fines," the Chief says.

"I feel like the quantity of alarm is more important than the type of alarm."

To that end, the Chief says, your home needs at least one smoke alarm/detector for every sleeping room, every exit and every floor; even the basement.

"Check the batteries once a month, replace them at least once a year."

Rebecca Hunter says her in-laws would have bought smoke alarms, had they realized it was their responsibility.

"They just didn't know. Neither did we."

The Dalton Fire Department is able to buy smoke detectors/alarms at a volume discount and will sell them at cost, Chief Satterfield says.

"But more than that, we want them used correctly, especially for the elderly or those with health problems."

Bottom line: firefighters will deliver and install them, for free.

"One detector, in the center of the living room of this house, would have given them the time to get out," Chief Satterfield says.

"We want to find them outside waiting on us and not inside, trapped in the residence."

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