Education decreases risk of fire

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

The number of preventable house fires is dropping as safety education increases, said Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale.

But that's no reason to stop pushing fire safety.

The winter months especially in Alaska bring a host of fire dangers, and common sense can help keep residents and their families safe.

Most winter house fires start with heating appliances, Hale said. As temperatures drop, people are using wood burning stoves, chimneys, forced air furnaces and hot water heaters more often. "They need maintenance," Hale said.

One way area fire departments help facilitate this maintenance is through the chimney brush program. CES, as well as Nikiski and Kenai fire departments, loan out chimney brushes for free.

"This program has drastically reduced the amount of chimney fires we've had over the last six years," Hale said.

Hale also noted that people need to use caution when cleaning or maintaining their chimneys or fireplaces. Ashes should be placed in a metal container outside rather than in a plastic trash can or paper bag in the garage, he said. That's because even days after a fire, ashes still can ignite.

Another heating appliance that offers significant risk is a space heater.

"For those people who lack heat in particular rooms, especially in add-ons in Alaska, we see an increased use in space heaters," Hale said. "What we tell people is, 'Space heaters need space.'"

Most units have a manufacturer's recommendation of at least three feet of clearance in all directions, Hale said. More space is better, and consumers should always read the manufacturer's instructions, he said.

Winter also brings the increased danger of the holiday season.

In Alaska, the decreasing daylight often prompts an increase in the use of candles for light, and during the holidays, candle use mounts even more.

Candles should never be left unattended particularly in bedrooms and children should not use candles (or any other flame) without adult supervision, Hale said.

Another holiday risk comes with Christmas trees. Merry-makers should keep their live trees green by placing them away from any heating source and watering them daily, Hale said.

Christmas lights, and the attached extension cords, also can pose a risk during the holidays, Hale said. Again, he emphasized the importance of reading the manufacturer's recommendations to avoid stringing together too many light sets or misusing power cords.

Finally, he said, homeowners can keep themselves safe by being prepared in the event of a fire.

Smoke detectors should be placed inside and outside of every sleeping area and on each level of a building, he said. They should not, however, be placed in kitchens, garages or right outside bathrooms, as most detectors recognize particulates, or disturbances in the air including smoke, but also steam and dust.

New fire codes also require detectors to be hard wired with a battery back up and to be wired on a system, so that if one goes off, they all go off.

"This would give early warning detection throughout the house instead of in isolated areas, providing ample time for people to escape," Hale said.

Smoke detectors also should be tested once a month, and batteries should be changed twice a year. Experts recommend using the fall and spring clock changes as a reminder to change batteries as well.

And, of course, people need a plan to get out of the house in case of a fire.

"We can't preach enough as far as having an exit plan and practicing the plan at least twice a year," Hale said. "It does no good when smoke detectors sound and you don't have a plan to get out."

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