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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 22, 1973)
thursday, february 22, 1973
lincoln, nebraska vol. 96, no. 76
State mobile home inspections 'go up in smoke'
(The following story was written as an assignment in
the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of
Journalism depth reporting class. The author is a
senior from Boise, Idaho)
by Chris Harper
Sultry summer air gripped Arapahoe. The year's
longest day-Sunday, June 21, 1970-lingered to Its
After a humid evening,, Mr. and Ms. Lee Smith had
gone to bed at 11 :30 p.m. Their sons, Donald
Missing, 13, and Robert Missing, 18, had left for their
rooms in the Smith's mobile home coupled to the
family's dwelling by a two-foot walkway.
After 20 minutes, the couple was awakened by
Robert's screams. Smith grabbed his trousers and
raced to the walkway, where he discovered that
flames had engulfed the mobile home.
Robert stood in the trailer's hallway. Fire
prevented his exit He retreated to Donald's bedroom
to aid his younger brother who apparently had been
overcome by smoke.
Smith suffered minor burns as the flames rebuffed
his rescue attempt The Arapahoe Volunteer Fire
Department responded to the alarm at 12:30 a.m.,
but when firemen arrived, the Smith's house and the
mobile home had been severely damaged.
The Missing brothers died in the blaze. The fire's
cause: defective wiring in a light fixture in the mobile
home, according to the state fire marshall's office.
Two weeks later, Nebraska instituted a state
minimum standard code for mobile homes. The code
couldn't save the Missing youngsters and inspection
procedures apparently have failed to curtail similar,
Lack of,, money, inadequate training of state
inspectors and Ineffective penalties have not
stalled fire safety, efforts, but may have led, to. an.
increase in both the number of fires and deaths in
Nebraska's 13,000 mobile homes, according to several
authorities. They say Nebraska's inspection program
is inadequate and assert that mobile home testing
programs in other states have cut both fires and
Are mobile homes a fire hazard in Nebraska?
-Mobile home fires ranked seventh among 48
categories in both number (90) and damage
($349,656) in Nebraska during 1971, according to
the state fire marshall's office. The number of fires
marks a 34.4 per cent increase over 1970 while the
number of mobile homes increased 26.9 per cent.
During the same period, the number of conventional
homes increased slightly while the number of fires in
these dwellings fell by 8.3 per cent.
-In 1971, the likelihood of death was 4.6 times
greater in a mobile home fire (seven deaths in 90
fires) than conventional dwellings (15 deaths in 889
fires), according to the 1971 state fire marshall's
-The average loss of $3,862 in a Nebraska mobile
home fire in 1971 was 2.6 times the national average
of $1,460 damage in all mobile home fires, according
to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
of Boston, Mass., and the state fire marshal)') office.
In 1069, the Legislature unanimously adopted the
mobile home standard. The code was patterned after
national model standard developed by a group of
organizations which included NFPA and the Mobile
Home Manufacturers Association (MHMA) of
The code establishes minimum requirements for
construction, plumbing, electrical and heating
systems for all mobile homes built after June 26,
1970. Violation is a misdemeanor with a maximum
penalty of a $100 fine.
Lack of funding
The State Department of Health is the only state
inspector of the Internal components of mobile
homes,1 according to Fred Jolly, director of the
Division of Environmental Sanitation.
The yearly allocation of $1,800 by the Legislature
is not enough to conduct aadequate mobile home
inspection program, Jolly said.
"We try to allocate our time.. .according to the
funding given each program and, of course, mobile
home funding comes in a law priority," he said.
"Although we feel it should be one of our major
programs, the time actually spent on mobile homes is
just not what it should be."
Since 1970, one man has worked just one day a
week to inspect mobile homes. Jolly said. In 1972,
the inspector evaluated ail of Nebraska's 16 mobile
home factories once, but was able to visit only 65 of
Nebraska's 250 mobile home dealers. Jolly said.
"We fell well short," Jolly said. "Some of these
factories should be visited two and three times a year
and in most of our other inspection programs we like
to visit three or four times."
The director added: "I thinx u (mobile home
inspection) should have a" top priority with the
growth in the number of mobile homes. The number
of complaints that we receive every month is
increasing, so emphasis should be put on it."
Two insurance men said mobile homes are more
susceptible to fire than conventional dwellings. Many
of the fires also can be attributed to constructural
defects, and inadequate inspection may have helped
cause the increase in mobile home fires in Nebraska,
the claims adjuster said.
"Most of the (mobile home) fires can be attributed
to malfunctioning of furnaces and heating. Mobile
homes also are more susceptible to shorting in their
electrical systems," according to Matt Byers, claims
examiner for the Central National Insurance Co. of
"With laxity in controls, the manufacturer might
have a tendency to cheapen its standards in certain
areas," he added.
Another insurance adjuster, Bill Inman of Allied
Insurance Co. of Omaha, said he also questions the
home exits, furnaces and the addition of storm doors
and windows have increased mobile home quality.
He said he doesn't believe the losses in Nebraska
mobile home fires can be attributed to the units'
The damages might "relate to the local fire fighting
capabilities," Davenport said.
Gery Jewett, former inspector of Nebraska's
mobile homes, echoed Davenport's comments.
"The entire industry is doing a good job in
providing low-cost housing. Some veterans coming
back from Vietnam, for instance, can't afford
conventional housing," Jewett said.
The former inspector cited two problems with the
mobile home program: money and ineffective
"Under no circumstances is the money enough,"
he said. "I was able to do an adequate job because the
entire industry was sold on the idea. If it had been a
hostile group, it would have been a difficult job."
The maximum fine of $100 for a violation is "the
same as every one of the health and safety
laws-that's one weakness," Jewett said. "The State
Department of Health has no jurisdiction. The
department can only recommend to the county
attorney to take proceedings against a manufacturer.
For example, if you sent a case to the Douglas
County attorney, he would probably laugh in your
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fire safety of mobile homes.
"Most residential homes have shoe track which is
fireproof while most mobile homes only have wood
paneling which is more flammable," Inman said.
"Their heating vents aren't the greatest either. I
would say that about 60 per cent of all mobile home
fires are caused by furnace or electrical
An MHMA representative, Larry Davenport,
disagreed. Davenport, MHMA vice president of public
relations, said he believes improvements in mobile
Possible budget cuts
He added that no manufacturer or dealer had been
fined under the law.
Since Jewett left the inspector's post Jan. 1, 1973,
Jolly said the program had been integrated into the
regular staff of the Division of Environmental
Sanitation. Six sanitation experts comprise the
division's personnel and the services of two sanitation
engineers also are available, he said.
Continued on pap 2
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