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Fire Breaks Out While State College Man is Sleeping

by on July 24, 2014 10:10 AM

A fire broke out Monday night on College Avenue after a man fell asleep while cooking food on his stove at Barcroft apartments.

He should count himself lucky to be alive, thanks to his neighbors who smelled smoke coming from his apartment unit and called 911.

Steve Bair, fire director for the Centre Region Council of Governments, says the batteries in the unit's smoke detector were dead, which is why Alpha Fire Company wasn't contacted sooner. Bair says tenants are responsible for replacing the batteries in smoke detectors.

In addition to the dead smoke detector in the unit, the building's fire alarm malfunctioned due to a programming error, Bair says. 

The food was burning but the fire was contained by the metal flashing above the stove. This metal prevented the cabinets from catching fire. If that had happened the fire could have spread much more quickly.

The entire apartment, located at 522 E. College Ave., filled with smoke. Neighbors began to smell smoke coming from the hallway and called emergency responders for help around 5:50 p.m.

Bair says when Alpha Fire Company arrived at the scene, there was a large amount of smoke in the hallway outside the unit but the alarm was not beeping.

Firefighters were able to awaken the sleeping tenant, who was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation but declined additional treatment. The smoke was cleared from the building within an hour of the firefighters arrival, Bair says.

Damage was fairly minor. The burned out stove will have to be replaced and the apartment will need to be cleaned.

Centre Region Code is investigating the building's malfunctioning smoke detector. Bair says the assumption is the smoke detector and security alarm were programmed together. As a result, the smoke detector probably chirped once or twice before turning itself off.

Typically, when a smoke detector starts beeping, it will continue to sound until a human clears it or takes some action. This is different than the case of security alarms, which are made to go off and then silence itself after police or fire departments are called.

"The suspicion is that whoever set the alarm up did the programming on it," Bair says. "They didn’t change the fire circuit to be a different response than the burglary or security circuit."

These types of unintended cooking accidents are all to common. Bair says 45 percent of fires originate on the top of stoves.

Barcroft apartments is owned by Associated Realty Property Management. Calls for comment to ARPM were not returned.

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Jessica Tully recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in journalism and political science. She is a frequent contributor to and has also reported for USA TODAY, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Onward State and The Daily Collegian.
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