Smoke detectors best fire defense
Maj. Gen. James Milano is Fort Jackson's commanding general.

FORT JACKSON, SC -- Fort Jackson's fire department has been gearing up for National Fire Prevention Week, which will begin Saturday with the post's fourth annual "Hotoberfest" - a fire station open house and carnival. The fire-safety program, which is put together by DES and FMWR, promises to be as educational as it is entertaining once again.This year, the fire-prevention theme turns to smoke alarms.

Before I share the advice from the fire safety experts, I will point out that fire safety in general is never a one-day or one-week event. Fire safety is something that we need to completely comprehend and practice year round. It's a very serious subject and something that calls for a continuous awareness and continual inspections, particularly when one considers that each year, nearly 3,000 people in the United States die in house fires.

The simplest, most important fact that you need to remember is that many fires can be prevented.

One of the best prevention devices found in the home is the smoke alarm; however, the key point here is also that smoke alarms need to be maintained.And, we need to make sure that we know how to react when the alarm sounds. We military people call this Actions on Contact! According to fire officials, we could use a little practice in this area.

First of all, placement of the alarm is critical. Smoke alarms should be located on every level in the home, outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. If a smoke alarm is older than 10 years old, it is no longer effective and needs to be replaced with a new one. Smoke alarms can mean the difference between life and death - they are that important if a fire should break out.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in roughly two-thirds of home fire deaths, there were no smoke alarms present or the ones that were there malfunctioned. In 23 percent of home fire fatalities, smoke alarms were present but did not sound.

The NFPA says that functioning smoke alarms reduce the odds of dying in a fire by 50 percent. That's a pretty incredible statistic and something that we need to remember when we are forced to replace a battery or two during an inconvenient time.

To ensure that smoke alarms are functional, we need to test them at least once a month. We need to make sure the batteries are good. If an alarm begins to chirp, replace the battery immediately. Also, never remove or disable a smoke alarm. Housing residents on Fort Jackson should contact our RCI partner, Balfour Beatty, if they have any concerns about their alarms.

Fire Prevention Week creates an opportunity to inform residents about new technologies and expanded options for maintenance and installation. Most fire prevention experts agree that interconnected smoke alarms offer the best protection for families. When one alarm sounds, all of the alarms sound. This is an important feature in large or multi-story structures.

There are many other safety practices that help prevent fires, but we also need to know what to do in case of fires. That's why our firefighters emphasize that fire drills and knowing how to report a fire are just as important as how to prevent fires.

Incidentally, according to NFPA statistics, there was almost a 7 percent decrease in the number of structure fires last year compared to a year earlier, with 480,500 reported to fire departments in 2009. Of the structure fires, 377,000 of those involved residences, accounting for 79 percent of all structure fires, but a 6.5 percent decline from the previous year.

My conclusion is that that practicing good fire safety plays a significant role in that decline.

I would encourage you to spend some time at the Hotober Fest and make yourselves familiar with some of the ways that you can practice good fire safety. This event takes place at the DES Building on Jackson Boulevard from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16