Miswiring of detectors may have contributed to fire deaths

A distraught father raged at how two faulty smoke alarms contributed to the death of his daughter and grandson. Detectives investigating the deaths of 25-year-old Marion Moran and her three-year-old son, Brandyn, in a house fire discovered two alarms had been wrongly wired, an inquest heard.

"What's the use if its installed wrongly? It's like an ornament on the ceiling," said grieving father Derek Moran.

"I'm not saying the alarm would have woken Marion, but it should have worked."

The inquest heard the fire at their home, in Dundalk's Farndreg social-housing scheme in April 2005, began on the cooker after two of the rings had been left on and one had a saucepan on it.

Scenes-of-crime examiner Detective Garda Mick O'Driscoll took the smoke alarms from the hall and the landing. Both were wrongly wired to the mains.

He contacted the manufacturer, EI Electronics in Shannon, Co. Clare, and arranged for the alarms to be tested in the presence of an independent engineer. The garda told the inquest the electric wires in the smoke alarm were the same colour, with no indication as to which was live and which was neutral. Both alarms had batteries installed as a back-up.

The report of tests carried out by Tony Kilkenny, of EI Electronics, said the green light, indicating mains power, was not working. The battery was also flat in the first alarm tested and, as a result, "it obviously would not respond to smoke," the inquest heard.

Mr. Kilkenny found a resistor had burnt out, an indication that the alarm had been miswired. As an experiment, he miswired two other alarms and got the same results. The other alarm from Marion's home was also wrongly wired.

Louth county coroner Ronan Maguire said there was no way of telling which wire was neutral or live. He said the opinion of Mr. Kilkenny was the alarms were wrongly installed and had blown.

The coroner expressed his own concern that if a smoke alarm was miswired, it could cause a short and become defunct. If that happened, the battery might not work either.

Recording verdicts of accidental death, Mr. Maguire called for the wiring on all alarms to be "clearly marked live and neutral".

The coroner praised the heroism of neighbours who attempted a rescue. Three of them, along with two gardaĂ­, went into the house to search for Miss Moran and her son. They feared Brandyn's ten-year-old sister, Tamika, was there too, but she was staying with her grandfather. After the hearing, Mr. Moran urged people to check their alarms, especially at this time of year.

He said: "Make sure the green mains light is on. If you feel it's not properly done, get it checked. All you can do is put a battery in it and check that it works. But if the wiring is installed wrongly, what chance have you?"