EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 20, 2014

Editorial: Tragic lessons


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Tragedy can lead to tough lessons learned and, sometimes, new laws written.

Such was the case in 2005, when then Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signed Nicole’s Law, mandating carbon monoxide detectors in every Bay State home with “fossil-fuel burning equipment.”

Nicole was Nicole Garofalo, a 7-year-old Plymouth girl who died earlier that same year when her family home filled with the deadly gas.

Some 400 people die in this country every year from CO poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands more people are treated in emergency rooms for the same reason.

On Wednesday, three Plaistow residents were found dead, presumed victims of CO poisoning. A fourth person was unconscious, but alive. He was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment.

New Hampshire doesn’t have a law requiring CO detectors for older, single-family homes.

No law would have prevented these deaths.

The home did have a CO detector, but its battery had been removed.

There’s no blame here. It is, tragically and simply, a horrific accident.

But it might have been prevented.

That’s the intent behind Nicole’s Law, to save lives.

New Hampshire’s CO detector law only covers single-family homes when they’re newly built or substantially renovated.

Such laws are tough to enforce. Fire departments surely don’t have the time to knock on every door and demand proof of CO and smoke detectors. The presence or absence of detectors is noted by building inspectors and home inspectors when property changes hand.

Sometimes just having a law on the books is enough motivation for residents to comply.

The tragedy Wednesday is the worst kind of reminder to residents in every state. Carbon monoxide kills. It does so without smell, taste or warning — unless a working CO detector sounds and gives residents a chance to escape.

No law can require individuals to plug in detectors, check batteries, respond by calling fire officials when an alarm sounds.

Many among us have removed a battery when a smoke or CO detector sounds for no apparent cause or starts chirping at the end of its life. No law would change that behavior.

In the Live Free or Die state, personal freedom is held in much higher esteem than Big Brother laws.

A state that won’t mandate seat belts, car insurance or motorcycle helmets is unlikely to add another legal layer to its CO detector law. Lawmakers ought to consider it. That extra layer means inspections before a single-family home sale would at least guarantee the installation of such detectors, although it can’t mandate maintenance.

The incident Wednesday is a horrible reminder to every resident in every state. Take basic precautions to protect yourself and your family. If an alarm sounds, heed, don’t disable it.

In a world where cigarettes carry labels warning of the risks of smoking, where 49 states require adults to wear seat belts because they save lives, warnings and laws matter.

Fire death rates are 51 percent less in homes with working smoke detectors, according to the American Red Cross.

The Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Security reports that every year since Nicole’s Law was enacted, many lives have been saved by CO detectors.

That’s reason enough right there.

Nothing can lessen the grief nor diminish the loss for the three victims’ families and friends.

But perhaps fewer lives will be lost as a result of this tragedy. Check smoke and CO detectors today. If they’re missing, replace them — now.