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Day-Care Smoke Detector Law Signed

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday signed a law to require all licensed day-care homes, no matter how small, to install smoke detectors to prevent the kind of tragedy that killed two infants in a Huntington Beach fire earlier this month.

The law comes in direct response to the Huntington Beach case--which has struck an emotional chord in Orange County and Sacramento--and plugs a loophole that has permitted operators of day-care centers with fewer than seven children to rely solely on fire extinguishers for protection.

Such was the case on June 8 when one of four children in baby-sitter Pat Orozco’s home started a fire with a cigarette lighter while the woman was in the bathroom.

By the time Orozco discovered the blaze, it had spread quickly and only two children could be rescued. Eight-month-old Jessica Jordan and 13-month-old John D. Reilly IV died despite the efforts of Orozco and others to save them.

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Although the home on Audrey Drive had an extinguisher, Huntington Beach fire officials say it was useless because the blaze was too big by the time Orozco saw it. They said a smoke alarm would have alerted her sooner and probably saved the infants’ lives.

Calling the new law a “minimal step toward improving fire safety in the family day-care homes,” state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), who introduced the smoke-detector legislation, expressed sympathy to the families of the two infants who died in the Huntington Beach fire.

“I want to take steps to ensure that others don’t experience similar tragedies.”

After the fatal fire, Watson amended her bill on day-care li censing to force operators of small homes to use both fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.

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Under the old law, licensed operators who took care of fewer than seven children could choose either one. Watson’s amendment simply changed the word “or” to “and” in the provision.

State law already requires those providing licensed day care to seven or more children to have both fire-safety devices.

Huntington Beach Fire Chief Raymond Picard said he was gratified by the swift reaction to the tragedy by the California Legislature and the Huntington Beach City Council, which last week passed an ordinance requiring smoke detectors in all homes.

“What is so interesting from a professional firefighter’s standpoint is the real trauma or emotion that has caught hold as it relates to the political bodies, from the City Council all the way to the Legislature and the governor,” Picard said Friday.

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“This one touched one of these sensitive nerves, and everybody followed through in commendable fashion,” said Picard, fire chief for 22 years.

While the new law, which goes into effect today, closes a loophole in regulations pertaining to licensed day-care homes, it does nothing about unregulated centers without state inspections or certification, said Mary Werth, Huntington Beach Fire Department spokeswoman.

That is why the City Council passed the ordinance mandating smoke detectors in all homes, she said. “That will cover unlicensed day care, and we all know there is a whole slew of them out there,” said Werth.

By state law, all homes built, remodeled or sold after 1975 were required to have smoke detectors. Yet Huntington Beach Fire Marshal James P. Vincent has estimated that half of the city’s homes and apartments aren’t equipped with the early warning devices.

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Deukmejian on Friday issued no comment before signing the day-care law, which also establishes pilot programs in Ventura and Placer counties to allow day-care homes to take on two “latch-key” children after school without a change in licensing provisions. “Latch-key” children are those who after school go to empty or unsupervised homes, typically because parents or guardians are at work.


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