By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneOctober 6, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The news is worth repeating.
This time every year the Redstone Fire Protection Division, along with fire departments across the U.S, step up efforts to inform citizens about the importance of fire prevention during the nation's annual recognition of Fire Prevention Week. This year the week is Oct. 5-11.
For firefighters, the message of fire prevention never grows old because the problem never goes away -- in 2013, according to the National Fire Prevention Association, there was a civilian fire death every two hours and 42 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 33 minutes. Home fires caused 2,755 -- or 85 percent -- of all U.S. civilian fire deaths in 2013.
Citizens must be fire aware if they are to protect themselves, their loved ones, friends and co-workers from the dangers of fire at home, in the workplace or elsewhere, said Christian Miles, fire protection inspector.
And that fire awareness begins with the use of smoke detectors.
"Working smoke detectors are so important to fighting the increase of fire fatalities in homes," Miles said.
"There's been an increase in fire fatalities in homes, especially in Alabama. We are leading the fire fatality rate when combined with other adjoining states. Fire departments across the state are working together to alert people to the importance of smoke detectors."
Alabama ranks number three in the nation for the relative risk of fire death, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. With the risk of fire death set at 1 percent for the general population, Alabama's risk is 2.5 percent with Mississippi at 2.3 percent, Tennessee at 1.9 percent and Georgia at 1.5 percent. Of the top 10 states with the highest relative risk of fire death, six are Southern states.
The need to elevate fire awareness is a nationwide issue, Miles said, as evidenced by the theme of Fire Prevention Week -- Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month!
"Smoke alarms can make a lifesaving difference in a fire, but they need to be working," said Ken Riley, Redstone's lead fire inspector.
"Unfortunately, many home fire deaths result from fires where a smoke alarm is present but does not operate. This year's Fire Prevention Week theme focuses on motivating people to test their smoke alarms each month to make sure they're working properly."
Miles said that beyond testing monthly, batteries in smoke detectors should be changed every six months, coinciding with the change in Daylight Savings Time.
"Change clocks, change batteries. You've got to get in the habit," he said.
Although fire prevention on the Arsenal focuses primarily on protecting employees working in office buildings, Miles said the Redstone firefighters also want to extend that protection through education to the local community outside the gates.
"We want to protect our employees both at work and at home. They are valuable assets to Team Redstone," Miles said. "Every employee is important to the mission. We want them to be fire safe in their work environment as well as in their home and other places where they may go on their off time."
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, having a working smoke alarm in the home cuts the risk of dying in a fire in half. On average each year, three out of five home fire deaths result in fires where there are either no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. In 23 percent of the home fire deaths, smoke alarms were present but did not sound.
"Nearly 3,000 people continue to die in fires each year, with most of those deaths occurring in homes," Riley said. "The vast majority of home fire deaths are preventable, and working smoke alarms play a big role in helping reduce those numbers."
The NFPA recommends installing smoke alarms inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. They should be replaced every 10 years or sooner if they don't respond properly when tested.
Beyond smoke detectors, fire safety both in the workplace and at home also involves planning ahead of a fire emergency, Miles said. The plan should include, first and foremost, an exit plan.
"Every room should have two means of egress. At home, families should practice exiting in case of fire," he said. "Practicing exit fire drills both at home and at work are important. You need to know how to exit quickly when there is a fire because fire and smoke spread quickly."
A conference room -- or a living room at home -- can fill with smoke in about two minutes.
"Even when a room isn't completely filled with smoke, any amount of fire smoke can make it very hard to see and very hard to breathe," Miles said. "That's why it's important to know your exits and how to get out quickly. There is a 75 percent greater chance that you will survive a fire if you practice a fire plan and you have smoke detectors."
Cooking fires are the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries, according to the NFPA. Smoking is the leading cause of civilian home fire deaths. Home heating equipment is the second most common cause of home fire fatalities.
"Unattended cooking, and barbecuing or deep fat frying on a deck are all hazard fire situations," Miles said. "When barbecuing or when deep fat frying a turkey you should be at least 15 feet away from combustible materials, such as a wood deck, the eaves of a house or branches on a tree or shrub.
"When you are cooking, keep a close watch on what you are cooking, especially when cooking with grease, oils or fats. These heat up very quickly and can ignite in a flash."
Miles said 911 should be called to attend to a kitchen or cooking fire, even if it's put out safely.
"You should let the fire department come and check for any possible fire hot spots. Especially with a barbecue fire, radiant heat can get inside the walls of a house through a vent and cause a hidden fire in the walls that you don't know about until it's too late," he said.
Miles said Redstone firefighters are available to speak to employee groups at any time. The fire department also conducts fire safety classes at the department's training center, building 3545, at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. every second Tuesday. For more information or to schedule a class, call 876-7005 or check out the Redstone fire department webpage at www.garrison.redstone.army.mil.
During Fire Prevention Week, firefighters will visit the Child Development Center and the School Age Center to talk about fire safety. Children will meet Sparky the Fire Dog and get to shoot water out of a fire hose.
On Oct. 9, firefighters will host a Fire Prevention Neighborhood Event with Redstone Communities at 5 p.m. that will include a fire truck parade from Dyer Park, and a cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs at Dyer Park. The Madison City Fire Department will bring their Fire Prevention Truck to the event so that Redstone families can practice crawling through a smoke-filled room.
Also, during the week, Redstone firefighters will conduct a joint fire drill at NASA building 4200.
"We have a strict fire protection program here at Redstone Arsenal," Miles said. "We practice fire prevention measures, and teach fire extinguisher classes and fire safety classes. And we do routine fire drills at all the major buildings, including the Von Braun Complex, the Sparkman Center, Redstone Test Center, Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, and at all the test ranges."
Fire Prevention Week occurs annually during the week in which Oct. 9 falls, commemorating the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Each year, NFPA works in coordination with partnering companies, organizations and fire departments to promote Fire Prevention Week and its fire safety messages throughout North America. For more information on Fire Prevention Week and this year's campaign theme, "Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month!", visit www./fpw.org.