Poisonproof Your Community

By Tom Kiurski

With so many fire departments today providing some level of emergency medical services (EMS), we find ourselves responding to a large number of incidents that could have been prevented. One such category of calls is accidental poisonings, which are responsible for about 100 deaths per year in the United States as well as many more nonfatal incidents. Since National Poison Prevention Week is March 21-27, this is a good time to make the members of our communities more aware of poisonings. There are a number of ways to accomplish this.

While most citizens are aware of our emergency response number (9-1-1), there is also a National Poison Control Center number: 1-800-222-1222. This center is constantly manned and can give a wide array of information, from life-saving advice to calm reassurance that a specific product is not poisonous. You can let your community know about the National Poison Control Center in a number of ways: print it on flyers, list it on your department’s Web page, place it on educational handouts, print it on bookmarks, and list it on cable programs and public service announcements (PSAs).

There are many Web sites that can be useful in providing poison awareness information:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has a lot of good poison prevention awareness and activities on it (www.aap.org/family/poisonwk.htm).
  • The Poison Prevention Week Council is the official sponsor of Poison Prevention Week (www.poisonprevention.org) and has downloadable reports, posters, and games for kids.
  • The National Fire Protection Association has information at www.nfpa.org/riskwatch/index.html.
  • You can have some fun by visiting the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy at www.pharmacy.arizona.edu/centers/apdic/toxtrivia2.shtml. This is where you will find the “Tox Trivia” game all about poisonings–both famous and obscure. Some of the questions are great for icebreakers during talks to groups in your community.

You can find more information if you browse the article archives of Fire Engineering on this Web site. See specifically my 2000 article “Helping to Reduce Accidental Poisonings.” The article also includes information about some of our efforts here in Livonia, Michigan.

With Poison Prevention Week just around the corner, see what information you can use to help prevent the next accidental poisoning in your community.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, 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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