By Becki White
A 32-year-old woman and her four children, ages two, seven, 10, and 14, were killed in an apartment fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The home had no working smoke alarms.
I read reports like this and shake my head, wondering if the headline might have been different if they had invested $20 in a smoke alarm or $3 in fresh batteries. I think about how sad it is that they could have had an alarm on the ceiling and a drawer full of 9-volt batteries, but they hadn’t pushed the test button recently to discover that the alarm batteries were no longer working.
If you’ve had these same thoughts, here’s a chance to capitalize on them. There are many directions your fire department can go with smoke alarm education: types and proper placement, regular testing, maintenance and replacement, home and workplace escape plans, home and workplace fire drills. You are limited only by constraints you place on yourself.
If you don’t have sufficient staff to visit classrooms, and you don’t have an open house scheduled this time of year, you can still hold a community-wide fire drill. Ask the residents of your town to develop their own escape plans, and have the whole community practice their plans at a specific time. Maybe partner up with local businesses to hand out fire escape planning information. You could work with grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations…those types of places. If you have a local newspaper or an area radio station, call and talk with a reporter; they’ll get the word out. A great way to motivate behavior change and reduce the risk of fire deaths, this activity is a media attention-getter, too, so it helps raise your fire department’s profile. You can travel around the community in your trucks and meet with residents where they gather. Talk about smoke alarms, escape planning, and home fire drills as you get the community involved in your event.
If you don’t have a fire department-sponsored event, join in on other events happening in or near your community. Create a display board with different types of smoke alarms; include advice on placement, and display it at the county fair or community celebration. Set up shop in the parking lot of a local hardware store, a popular eatery or public park, and talk about fire prevention. Get to your vulnerable audiences with information on alarms for the deaf and hard of hearing, and talk about escape plans for the mobility impaired. If your city has a park and recreation program, visit with kids at their day camps.
Your safety education outreach is an essential part of protecting the people you serve, so take the opportunity to be proactive and prevent your citizens from being listed as a fire fatality.
Becki White is a Minnesota deputy state fire marshal and a captain in the Eden Prairie (MN) Fire Department. She has a master’s degree in teaching and learning and was an elementary teacher for 12 years. White has combined her passion for education with her knowledge and experience in the fire service to become a resource for fire and life safety educators. White is also the vice president of the North Star Women’s Firefighter Association, a nonprofit organization that assists with mentoring, networking, and training women in the fire service.
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