National Fire Prevention Week runs Oct. 6-12, and Owensboro Fire Department says staying up-to-date on safety regulations, being educated on what causes residential fires and developing a plan of action can greatly reduce the number of accidental fires and deaths and injuries related to residential fires — both for the residents and the firefighters who respond.
OFD Battalion Chief and City Fire Marshall Steve Leonard said the focus on fire prevention started after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Since then, fire departments across the country have put more focus on educating the public about fire hazards and safety, and the entire month of October has been dedicated to fire prevention.
“This is the time of year to prepare for winter when more people are inside their homes and more people are utilizing their heating [systems and equipment],” Leonard said.
Tips for preventing residential fires include checking the batteries in your smoke detector and making sure smoke detectors are placed in the best locations around one’s home, Leonard said.
“Change your batteries once a year,” he said. “Check to make sure your smoke detectors work at least once a month. Smoke detectors should be in every room of the house, except for kitchens and bathrooms.”
OFD doesn’t recommend smoke detectors in kitchens because, even though most residential fires are caused by cooking incidents, they tend to go off more often during non-fire situations and cause residents to associate them with false alarms. Same with smoke alarms in bathrooms, as the steam from a shower can set off the smoke detector when there’s no fire.
Leonard said residents should place smoke detectors in all other rooms and, especially, at the top of the stairs in a two-story house, as smoke travels upward.
Leonard said newer smoke detectors have 10-year batteries, which is great, but it still means the smoke detector should be checked on a monthly basis.
Having a plan of action for when a fire breaks out is extremely important, Leonard said, as they save countless lives each year.
“We started this with second graders, and that plan of action sticks with them afterward,” he said. “It teaches them the second part of having a smoke detector.”
In the case of a residential fire, Leonard recommends having a flashlight beside each person’s bed so they can navigate through a possibly smoke-filled residence. Even more, residents should immediately roll out of bed and crawl across the floor on their hands and knees.
“Most people die in bed, or right beside the bed,” Leonard said. “They stand up and [inhale the smoke] and it causes them to lose consciousness really quickly.”
Each bedroom in a residence should have a window that’s able to be opened from the inside, Leonard added.
“We’ve dealt with some severely tragic situations where kids couldn’t get the window open and died right there,” he said.
A phone call to 911 should never be made from inside the home, but from a safe location outside, when residents have been able to obtain a cell phone.
To prevent residential fires, Leonard says individuals should get their heating equipment inspected right now, before winter hits.
“We see a large number of heating-related fires,” he said. “Make sure everything is in good repair. For alternate heating methods, make sure everything is clean and cleared out.”
Aromatherapy, or, candles, are another huge cause of fires across the country, Leonard said.
“Never leave candles lit when you leave the house,” he said. “Don’t let small children play with lighters — keep them out of reach. It’s really tragic when a fire is accidentally caused by a kid mimicking its parent’s actions.”
If the lights are dim when you plug in your hairdryer or toaster, you should get your electrical equipment checked out, Leonard said.
“It may be the appliance, it may be the electrical system,” he said. “Especially during the holiday season, overloading your electrical system can cause it to fail. We overload our outlets. You might be using a power strip, but it’s still connected to one outlet.”
Another major cause of fires is caused by clothes dryers — namely, residents don’t clean the lint out of the dryer, or they leave their dryers on when they leave the house.
“If the belt comes off and breaks while your clothes are drying, the heating element will keep going, causing it to catch fire,” he said. “Everyone multitasks, and we’ve responded to many dryer-related fires. It’s pretty common.”
A community of Owensboro’s size should see between three and 12 fire-related deaths a year, but Leonard said an average of 0-1 occur in our area each year.
“Our department puts a lot of education into fire prevention,” he said. “It’s a big part of what a fire department does, and a lot of people don’t know that, but it’s extremely important.”