Coroner, fire chief share what’s sparking Johnstown flames, how to prevent them


CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – Johnstown Fire Chief Bob Statler said it’s not only been a busy fire season for him and his department, but a tragic one with five fires being fatal – the most Cambria County has seen in 16 years.

“It’s unfortunately apart of the job,” Statler said.

Job or not, Statler said that doesn’t make it any easier.

“We don’t like seeing it, these do sit on us, we remember them for a long period of time,” he said.

As for what’s sparking all the city’s flames, the department said they’re seeing a mix of cases; some are accidental, while others are electrical.

While Statler admits that electrical fires can be tricky as they don’t always show themselves, he said they are in fact preventable.

“If you’re having issues with electricity, and we’ve had some people say oh that light switch hasn’t worked in a while or it works off or on, that’s a key that there’s an electric issue that should be repaired because that’s where we’re running into these problems,” Statler said.

Another issue they’re facing comes from wiring.

“A lot of houses in the city are older houses, there’s older wiring that’s not been replaced, and we’re seeing that as what’s causing some issues,” he said.

When it comes to fire safety and prevention Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees said it’s imperative that people have fire and escape plans.

“It’s something people don’t want to think about, but we need to,” Lees said.

Lees said it’s also critical to get furnaces serviced.

“Make sure they’re working properly, have batteries in our carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors,” he said.

While many have smoke detectors, Statler said they’re no use if they’re not checked and tested.

According to the US Fire Administration, people should test their alarms monthly, replace the backup battery at least once every year and replace the entire smoke alarm every 10 years.

These maintenance tips might seem general, but they could end up saving lives as Statler shared that the cause of death for many fires is actually smoke inhalation.

“And not actual fire deaths,” he said. “The smoke is toxic, so they’re not burning the smoke gets them before they’re able to get out the house and before we’re actually even able to get on scene.”

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