Connecting with the Community: A Call To Action

by Tom Kiurski

After several months in which some particularly deadly fires have occurred in this country, we need to address the many ways that we can reduce the fire risks we face in our homes. Sadly, most such fire deaths are preventable. When speaking to groups in your community, take the time to go over these simple but often overlooked aspects of safety.

This is the year 2007, and smoke alarm technology has virtually eliminated any downside of these life-saving devices. There is simply no reason why every home in your community cannot have a working smoke alarm. It amazes me that there are still homes without smoke alarms, especially when these devices are so easy to obtain and maintain. If your fire department has a smoke alarm giveaway program, tell your audience. Having working smoke alarms in your home reduces your risk of dying in a fire by half! You cannot argue with statistics like that. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tells us that 96 percent of all U.S. homes have smoke alarms, so it’s obvious that the majority of this country’s fire deaths (approximately 3,500 per year) happen in the small percentage of homes that do not have working smoke alarms. Don’t let your citizens fall into that category.

Carbon monoxide (CO) alarm technology is fairly recent, but should also be a part of the home safety package. Beware, however, that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are usually available as separate, distinct units–they are not interchangeable. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of unburned natural gas; CO alarms detect its presence in the case of a gas leak, not a fire. CO leaks in the home kill several hundred citizens in our country every year. Although there are dual-function combination alarms that detect both smoke and CO, the labeling on such devices must specifically state that they do so. Read labels carefully!

Test all your alarms once a month. Usually this is done by simply pressing and holding the “test” button until the alarm sounds. Change the battery at least once a year (sooner if the manufacturer recommends it), or when your alarm’s batteries are weak and the device emits a warning “beeping” sound. Some alarms have 10-year lithium batteries, and some are hooked in to your home’s electrical system. Tell your audience to find out which type they have and how to test and maintain them before it is too late.

Develop and practice a home escape plan. The plan covers a drawing of the home and all rooms in it. The important part is to go over the escape plan with all family members present, discussing doors, windows and doorwalls as potential ways out of the home in case of fire. Regarding second-floor bedrooms, families should review their secondary escapes by looking out the windows. If a window leads to a lower roof on a garage or lower roof, it can be used. If not, purchase a home escape ladder to store under beds and deploy when needed. Encourage citizens to practice deploying the ladder out a window with the family. Show family members the location of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and what they sound like when they go off. Be sure to include a family meeting place where all family members go first to account for each other. Alert first-arriving fire units of the status of your family roll call.

Tell your audience to take a few minutes out for fire and life safety. They may find the time spent planning and practicing the escape plan was not only worthwhile, but fun.

Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.


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