New Orleans fire union: End home smoke alarm installs after police killings

The fire superintendent will not end the program saying the union president is in "fear of the citizens we serve."


By Jeff Adelson
The Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — In the wake of killings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, the New Orleans firefighters union is pushing back against sending its members door-to-door to install smoke detectors, arguing that the practice could put them at risk of being targeted.

Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said Thursday, however, that the policy has put no one in danger and will not be changed.

In a series of emails over the past several days, McConnell dismissed the idea, suggesting that firefighters union President Nick Felton is in "fear of the citizens we serve."

Felton then wrote to McConnell, saying that "if anything should happen, the blood will be on your hands."

The dust-up comes as emergency response agencies are considering whether to revise their policies in the wake of the targeted police killings in recent weeks. It also is part of an ongoing dispute between Felton and McConnell over whether firefighters should be tasked with other duties when not directly responding to emergencies.

In recent years, the department has had its firefighters go door-to-door offering to install smoke detectors in homes. Last year, they fixed or installed about 10,000 of the devices.

The program took on particular urgency after a 2014 fire at a Broadmoor home that killed five people, including three children. The home had no smoke detectors.

Felton contends the practice could put firefighters in danger if they approach the home of someone engaged in crime or looking to harm first responders.

In at least one instance, he said, a firefighter was threatened after being allowed into a house. In other homes, firefighters have seen guns displayed, though those cases were not connected to the recent violence, he said.

"We are begging the chief to sit down and reconsider this and put this on hold," Felton said. "Erring on the side of caution wouldn't hurt anybody and could save firefighters' lives."

McConnell, however, argued that the program does not pose a special risk for firefighters, who are instructed to identify themselves and to enter a home only if they're invited in. McConnell said one time when he was allowed into a home, he encountered an individual agitated about his presence and simply left the home.

"What I would feel responsible for, what would be blood on my hands, would be someone dying in a fire where we didn't install a smoke alarm," he said.

Some agencies, particularly police, have responded to the recent police killings with measures aimed at providing more security. The New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, for example, now require two officers to respond to every call.

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(c)2016 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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