Officials urge fire safety

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Austin Fire Department has distributed nearly 8,000 smoke alarms since 1994.

Austin Fire Chief Dan Wilson believes the investment has saved lives and property.

“We can’t prevent them all from happening, but we can prevent a lot with the public’s help,” Wilson said.

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The fire department will distribute 250 more home smoke alarms, plus 175 lithium batteries Sunday, Oct. 5, when October Fire Prevention Week kicks off a month-long promotion.

The distribution will take place at the Fire Department’s partner: Russkell Hardware Store at Oak Park Mall, Austin.

From noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 5, Ruskell Hardware Store employees will join local firefighters in distribution the smoke alarms credited with saving lives and property.

The Austin Fire Department will have fire trucks on display outside Russkell Hardware Store, and firefighters will be available to make appointments to install the alarms — free of charge — with families and individuals. Wilson was made a believer in home smoke alarms years ago because he saw what happened without them.

“Smoke alarms are the residential fire safety success story of the past quarter century,” the fire chief said.

According to Wilson’s own research, 85 percent of fire deaths occur in residential dwellings.

A total of 2,895 fire deaths occurred in 2007 or seven each day in the United States. Total residential deaths were up from 2,580 in 2006. The fire chief’s research revealed an incredible 65 percent of all home fire deaths occurred in residences without working home smoke alarms.

That’s despite a nationwide effort of fire departments everywhere to educate the public about the importance of a working smoking alarm and major efforts to distribute them to families.

Already this year, 31 fire deaths have occurred in Minnesota; 26 in residential occupancies.

Wilson said he believes, 890 lives “could be saved each year if everyone had a working smoke alarm in their home.”

One recurring problem for fire departments: Most smoke alarms that don’t work have missing or dead batteries.

That’s why the Austin Fire Department aggressively pursues a program to distribute free lithium batters and to make free inspections of home smoke alarms.

With fall here and winter to come, Minnesotan’s will fire up furnaces, space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves to heat their residences.

One of the seasonal consequences is another face Wilson learned: Most home fire deaths occur in December and January.

It’s no coincidence, October is Fire Prevention Month, according to the fire chief.

Open house

After the Oct. 5 kick-off of Fire Prevention Week, the Austin Fire Department will be hosting an open house Wednesday, Oct. 8, at the Austin Fire Department headquarters.

Always one of the most popular events of its kind, firefighters will open fire station doors to visitors that day to see the trucks and other vehicles and firefighters’ turnout gear and other equipment and learn fire safety techniques, including how to use a fire extinguisher.

There will be handouts, including the “Prevent Home Fires” brochure being circulated by the National Fire Protection Association.

There will also be refreshments to enjoy, according to the fire chief.

It’s all about a device hung in hallways, bedrooms, basements and upper floors.

Even if a residence has a smoke alarm, if the battery is 10 years old, it should be replaced, according to the fire chief.

“Location, location, location” applies as much to a working smoke alarm as anything.

“Prevention, prevention, prevention” is the mantra being repeated again by firefighters every where.

The Sunday, Oct. 5 promotion at Russkell Hardware Store is important to the Austin Fire Department’s mission and they are ready, Wilson said, to offer hand-on help before an emergency calls them to a residence.

“Fire Department personnel will be available to answer fire safety questions,” Wilson reminded. “They will also be available to assist local residents with the installation of home smoke alarms.”

All day, Oct. 5, firefighters will go to Austin residences to install a working smoke alarm or inspect existing smoke alarms.

Wilson also pointed out the importance of working fire sprinkler systems in offices and businesses. “Over 400 communities in the United States have sprinkler requirements,” Wilson said. “This will save residents’ lives and firefighters’ lives.”

The city of Austin does not have any sprinkler requirements, but Wilson has made a proposal to the Austin Port Authority to help fund implementation of such a sprinkler program in the downtown retail district where the buildings are Austin’s oldest and most vulnerable.

But fire prevention is a matter of basics: Saving one life, one building at a time and the fire chief believes that can be done.

“Working smoke alarms save lives,” the fire chief concluded.