Letter to the Editor

Practice fire safety measures

Monday, October 4, 2004

Fire Prevention Week is here. The McCook City and Volunteer Firefighters and I, along with thousands of firefighters across North America, are visiting schools in various communities teaching the basics of fire safety and prevention.

The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week since 1922. The theme for this year's campaign is "It's Fire Prevention Week: Test Your Smoke Alarms."

Even though smoke alarms are now widely popular, it is still true that roughly 70 percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

If a home fire occurs, smoke alarms cut your chances of dying nearly in half. They should be installed on every level of a home, including the basement and outside each separate sleeping area. They should be tested once a month, following the manufacturer's instructions. Batteries need replacing once a year or as soon as the alarm "chirps," indicating that the battery is low. Replace all smoke alarms after 10 years, even those that are hard-wired or smoke alarms with "long-life" (10 year) batteries. Smoke alarms with "long-life" (10-year) batteries should also be replaced when the alarm "chirps" or fails to respond to periodic testing. The batteries in these units cannot be replaced.

A fire can spread through your home rapidly. In fact, you may have as little as two minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds. In addition to maintaining smoke alarms, it's vital that families develop a basic home fire escape plan so they know what to do when a smoke alarm sounds. Involve everyone in the household in putting together the plan. Download a copy of the home fire escape grid from the Fire Prevention Week web site, http://firepreventionweek.org. Walk through your home and identify two ways out of every room. Choose an outside meeting place a safe distance from your home where everyone can meet. Practice your escape plan twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.

Fire Prevention Week is not only an opportunity to jump-start fire safety efforts, but it's also a time to reflect on a tragic event in fire history. Many of you have heard of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire started on Oct. 8 and continued into the next day. Legend has it that the fire broke out after a cow, owned by Mrs. Catherine O'Leary, kicked over a lamp, setting the barn, then the whole city on fire. Historians tell us that the great fire almost certainly started near the barn, but there is no proof that a cow sparked the blaze. When the fire was extinguished, more than 250 people were dead. 100,000 were homeless, more than 2,000 acres had been burned and more than 17,400 structures had been destroyed.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation and in 1922, NFPA voted to observe Fire Prevention Week the Sunday through Saturday period that includes Oct. 9.

In 2002, home fires took almost 2,700 lives in the U.S. and injured almost 14,000. Direct property damage amounted to almost $6 billion.

We'd like for you to be part of the fire safety and prevention effort. So, test your smoke alarms and practice your home fire escape plan. Advanced planning could mean the difference between a safe escape and tragedy.

If you have any questions pertaining to fire safety, fire prevention or any of the fire safety and fire prevention programs that the McCook City and Volunteer Fire Department have to offer, feel free to contact me at the fire department at (308) 345-5710.

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