Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

October 17, 2012

Smoke detectors, safety plans save lives

TAHLEQUAH — To stay safe and provide the best level of protection from a structure fire, it’s key to know what a smoke alarm sounds like and be prepared to follow the fire exit safety plan on a moment’s notice.

It’s National Fire Prevention Month, and knowing what to do if a fire erupts in a private residence or public setting can save lives.

For private residences, the main thing to remember is to change smoke detector batteries when the time changes in both fall and spring, said Tahlequah Fire Department Capt. Mark Whittmore, who also suggested practicing the fire escape plan at least twice a year.

“If you’ve got kids, at night see what they react to. Push the test button and it let it beep. It’s loud, and see their reaction,” he said. “I was probably 16, 17 years old [when my parents’ house caught on fire], and I didn’t recognize [the sound of the smoke detector]. It woke me up, but I didn’t click on what it was. I just didn’t recognize that the house was on fire.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, National Fire Prevention Week is held Oct. 7-13 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Popular legend suggests a cow kicking over a lamp in a barn ignited the conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures while burning more than 2,000 acres. It doesn’t matter if a fire starts due to a sleepy dairy farmer using an oil lamp to milk a cow or neighborhood kids sneaking cigarettes behind the barn, the observance is used to raise awareness of knowing what to do when a fire starts.

The American Red Cross offered some suggestions on how a family or business can establish fire protection. Fires spread immediately, so know what to do, said Muskogee, Cherokee and Adair County Red Cross Director Ryan Hardaway.

“[The American Red Cross responds] to about one home fire every nine minutes across the country. The best thing you can do to protect your loved ones is to install a smoke alarm and develop and practice a fire escape plan,” he said. “Fires can spread  very quickly, so everyone at home, school and work should know what to do when they hear the sound of  a smoke alarm.”

Some of the American Red Cross recommendations include installing smoke alarms on every level of the house and inside bedrooms, ensure household members know two ways to escape from every room and designate a place to meet outside of the structure. Once a fire ignites, get out of the structure, stay out and call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.

“If you go outside, stay outside and don’t hide from the fireman. That’s another thing we preach in our little class is to recognize the fireman as a helper,” said Whittmore. “A lot of kids tend to hide from the fire because they’re scared of it. They’re just not familiar with what’s happening, and they’re scared because it’s something different. They either hide in the closet or try to go under the bed to get away from it . They don’t need to hide. They need to get outside and stay outside. If for some reason they are trapped when the fireman comes in there, they need to recognize the fireman as a helper and try to get his attention when he comes into the house looking for them.”

Whittmore also suggested using the back of your hand to check a closed door for heat.

“It’s kind of hard to teach, but if your doors are closed at night, check it for heat. We suggest checking with the back of your hand because if it burns you, it’s too hot to go out or open that door,” he said. “If it does burn your hand, use your palms to crawl out to your secondary exit. Practice your safety plan. Know what to do and just remember to get outside and stay outside and go to the meeting place . They can go to a neighbor’s house, to a mailbox or a big oak tree in the front yard. That way if there’s some separation in the parents from the kids, they all know where to go and it will be planned.”

For businesses, the fire escape plan is posted on or near the front door, Whittmore said.

“Nobody ever pays attention to them, but they’re posted with the [fire] exits [identified],” he said. “If you got into a business, just be aware when you walk in where the exits are in case something bad happens. If you go to Walmart, there are a lot of exits, but you have to recognize them. Typically, the escape plan will be near the front door, there will be illuminated exit signs and the doors usually have a crashbar. A crashbar is an all-in-one-motion [door]. You should be able to go up to it and hit it and it’ll open. There shouldn’t be any deadbolts or anything like that. That’s a fire violation.”

According the American Red Cross, fire is the most common disaster experienced by a business. Businesses, schools and other organizations can learn how to prepare for fire emergencies by becoming a member of the Red Cross Ready Rating Program by visiting www.readyrating.org. A  free and complete online assessment of the business’ current readiness level can be obtained, along with feedback and tips to improve safety conditions.

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