|The Morning Call, Allentown,
Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 22, 2008 -- Workers at the Best Western Allentown Inn & Suites installed carbon monoxide detectors in the hotel's 77 rooms on Saturday -- a good step, but about a day and a half too late. It was early on Friday that Philip D. Prechtel, a retired PPL engineer, was found dead in his room there and several others were sickened by exposure to the gas, including Mr. Prechtel's wife, Katherine.
Preliminary investigations say that exhaust vents for water heaters had been blocked by unrelated construction work outside the building, and carbon monoxide was trapped inside. Even as first responders arrived at the hotel in Upper Macungie Township, there were no clear indications as to what was happening. They thought they were dealing with severe flu symptoms.
Having CO detectors would have changed the outcome at the hotel. Yet, for all the regulations regarding safety in public accommodations, state law does not require them. Cities may mandate them -- as Bethlehem has -- but so many communities have hotels and motels that only a state law would be broad enough.
State Sen. Leanna Washington, D-Philadelphia, has been trying to get a bill requiring CO detectors in hotels passed for years, but it is once again sitting in the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee. (There is hope for it, because one of its co-sponsors is Sen. Pat Browne, the Republican from Allentown who is vice chair of the committee. Sen. Browne knows how to get things done.)
The measure, Senate Bill 394, has been fought by the Pennsylvania Builders Association and by the Association of Pennsylvania Building Code officials. But their concerns about the detectors reliability, voiced mostly about regulations for private residences, are not persuasive when it comes to hotels and the like.
Requiring CO detectors in hotels is a basic public-safety protection, well within the scope of state government authority. They would be just as valuable as rules for kitchen sanitation, fire evacuations and secure locks on the hotel room doors.
Given the relatively small cost of the detectors -- in the range of $50 for standard, serviceable models -- their installation and maintenance would not be burdensome to the hospitality industry. Nor would the proposed penalty in SB 394, a $100 fine, be onerous.
Last week's sad and unfortunate incident at the Best Western Allentown make it clear: There is no reason not to pass this reasonable safety regulation.
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