A 37-year-old Northern Virginia woman was killed and another woman critically injured early yesterday in a fire that authorities said both women could have escaped if the two smoke detectors in their town house had been equipped with batteries costing less than $2.
Clearly troubled by the death of Tanette E. Mattivi, the fourth fire fatality in Vienna in 12 months, fire officials later offered to deliver free smoke-detector batteries to any of the town's 15,000 residents.
"It's really a crying shame that we hadn't thought of it before," said G.W. Ellis, chief of the Vienna volunteer fire department. "We'll run 20 miles out to give 'em one if they need them," he said. "That's how important we think it is."
"We have one death and one critical injury because of less than $2," said Fairfax County Fire Chief Warren Isman, joining in the "Battery for Life" program. "How can we get the public to understand that when it [a smoke detector] chirps they need one little item to replace them?" Isman said, his voice quavering and his face reddening.
The fire at 204 Commons Dr., which prompted the program, started in the basement of Mattivi's town house when a candle left on a wicker basket burned undetected for about 40 to 50 minutes, Isman said.
Someone, he didn't know who, telephoned for help from inside the house, he said.
Mattivi's 16-year-old daughter, Brenda, smelled smoke and called for help, escaping about 3:25 a.m. by breaking a second-story bedroom window and jumping, the chief said.
Allison R. Carnwath, 21, who works for Mattivi at Legum & Norman Realty Inc. and lived in a room at the house, was rescued from the stairway by Vienna firefighter Rodney Fridley Jr., Isman said. Carnwath was in critical condition last night at the Washington Hospital Center, a spokeswoman said.
Fridley broke his ankle.
The brick town house where the two women and the girl lived had two smoke detectors and they were properly installed, but both lacked batteries that could have warned the occupants of the fire, officials said.
Mattivi, the vice president in charge of a Legum property management office, was found outside her second-floor bedroom. Rescue units attempted to revive her but she was pronounced dead on arrival at Fairfax Hospital, Isman said.
Isman said three of the four fire victims in Vienna in the past year would possibly be alive today if they had had functioning smoke detectors in their homes. Isman said that in Fairfax County there were eight fire fatalities in the last 12 months, compared with none in Montgomery County, which has required smoke detectors in homes for five years.
As of March 1, Fairfax County, including Vienna, required all homes and residential buildings with one or more dwelling units to have smoke detectors outside the sleeping areas and in basements.
The ordinance requires the owner of the dwelling, or the owner's agent, to maintain the detectors, Isman said.
It is up to the tenant to report malfunctioning detectors and buy the batteries, he said.
Enforcing the code is extremely difficult, Isman said, and violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor. But he and the other town officials were hopeful that the town residents will accept the battery offer.
Under the program, which starts immediately, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, in conjunction with the town of Vienna, will give batteries to Vienna residents requesting a fire safety check in their home, Isman said.
When the battery dies, a telephone call will bring replacement batteries, he said.
The phone numbers for the program, to be funded by the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department, are: 691-3366 and 691-4385. Isman said he expects the program to cost between $6,000 and $7,000.