Education first line of defence against fire

Hendon, Pa. (1998)–11 young people in their early teens and early 20s, all friends, headed to a cabin in the mountains. By daybreak Sunday, all of them were dead, caught in their beds by a swift fire.
Toronto, Ont. (Fall of 1998)–an elderly man died from burns after he fell asleep while smoking in a lounge of a seniors’ home complex.
Winnipeg, Man. (Fall of 1998)–a tragic house fire claims the life of a four-year-old at the scene. Two girls went to hospital, where a five-year-old girl later died.
A three-year-old little girl lay in the hospital bed, unconscious for almost three weeks. She later died.
There are the tragic fires that are claiming lives in Canada and elsewhere. Smoking materials, cooking, heating, and kids playing with matches account for the majority of fatal fires.
As a firefighter, I am concerned about the tragic fires that continue to claim the lives of people in the province. In 1998, 137 people lost their lives in fire. In 1999, from the period of Jan. 1 to March 31, some 30 people already have died.
During the 1980s, fire losses declined dramatically due in part of advanced legislation, enforcement, suppression, and smoke alarms. But over the past few years, the fire death rate appears to have levelled off.
90 percent of accidental fire deaths occur in the home where we feel safe and secure, and 70 percent of those fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms!
Data gathered indicates most fire losses could have been avoided through greater use of fire prevention and public safety education programs.
Currently, many fire prevention and public safety education programs are being delivered in communities across Canada to enhance fire safety and reduce fire loss. But in many communities, programs like the school-based “Learn Not to Burn” curriculum do not exist!
To deal with the fire problem, fire safety educators have indicated the first line of defence against fire is education, awareness, and promotion. As a firefighter, I can honestly say that there is no honour in fighting a fire that could have been prevented!
In my 12 years of being a part-time firefighter, I have seen the result from educating people, especially school children. Fact–public fire safety education works!
In the rest of Canada, fire is a widespread tragedy. Canada has the world’s third-worst record for fire losses and the fifth for loss of life. The death rate from fire in Canada, which takes the population into account, is the second-highest in the world!
For more than 10 years, Canada has averaged 67,326 fires a year. Dollar loss is an average of $1.2 million (Canadian) in direct property damage.
Looking at the indirect cost, such as maintaining the fire equipment and environmental clean-up after a fire, and combine it with the direct loss, the total amounts to roughly $11 billion in losses.
We averaged 465 fire deaths a year and 3,685 injuries a year. The trend is consistent and continues to date with no improvement!
Smoke is the real killer in most of these fatal fires. Few people die from the fire itself. Smoke is quiet and deadly…it will cover you like a blanket. Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds and can engulf a home in six minutes.
However, smoke can engulf a home in two minutes!
When you’re asleep, your nose is asleep. So properly-installed and maintained working smoke alarms on every level of the home and cottage, outside sleeping areas, and inside the bedrooms are critical for early detection of fire.
Test your smoke alarms weekly by pushing the alarm test button. Test monthly with actual smoke from a piece of smoldering cotton string, incense stick, or candle wick.
Vacuum every six months and change the batteries when you change your clocks in the spring and fall, or when needed.
If your smoke alarms are 10 years old, replace them. (Many smoke alarms have the date stamped on the back).
Include a home/cottage escape plan with two ways out of each room, especially the bedrooms. If fire strikes, get out and stay out!
Have a meeting place outside and phone the fire department from a neighbours. Never go back into a burning house/cottage!
Fact: If fires strikes and the blanket of smoke descends, you could be lost in your own home. The only light will be deadly–and coming your way!
Firefighters are working hard to educate the public about fire safety but we need everyone’s help. Fire safety–it starts with you!

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