Fire Prevention Week: raising safety through awareness

By: Sara Bowen

Fire safety is getting a boost this week from the National Fire Protection Association’s annual awareness campaign, Fire Prevention Week.

U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 3,840 fires nationwide in dormitories and Greek housing each year.  These fires are responsible for an annual average of three deaths, 38 fire injuries and $20.9 million in property damage.

Off campus housing may not be any safer, according to statistics from the NFPA. In 2009, one home structure fire was reported every 87 seconds, and an average of seven fatalities is caused by fires every day.

Being prepared and educated on fire safety is the key to staying safe. If you live off campus, construct a fire escape plan with two ways out of every room. On campus housing has regularly scheduled fire drills, which should be taken seriously.

Smoke detectors are your most important resource in preventing fires, so checking your device and its batteries monthly should be a priority. Never remove the batteries or disable the alarm, no matter how annoying your smoke detector is every time you turn on the oven.

Keep items away from your furnace and water heater, as those can easily catch fire. Use flashlights—not candles or any other type of open flame—during power outages. While lit candles are a quick and easy way to make your home smell nice, avoid leaving them unattended, and do not set them on a combustible surface such as a wooden table.

Another cause of fires is improperly used extension cords.

“Don’t overload your extension cords,” Aaron Hurd, a senior investigator at Casalinova Investigations, Inc., said. “For example, don’t use an extension cord meant for a table lamp on an air conditioning unit. Basically, avoid using extension cords unless it’s necessary.”

Cooking equipment is responsible for 81 percent of fires. Hurd says to stay in the kitchen at all times while cooking.

“Don’t leave your kitchen unattended, even for a second,” Hurd cautions. “By the time you come back to the kitchen after a fire starts, it is usually too late to prevent any spreading.” He advises against reusing grease for cooking. “Most grease fires we investigate are caused by grease that has been used a couple times.”

Following all safety directions around campus or in your home can prevent disaster. Be aware of all fire escape plans in campus buildings. If you smoke, stay 25 feet away from buildings, as many accidentally discard their cigarettes too close to a building, causing a fire. Before throwing your ashes out, dump water on them to ensure that the embers are completely out and to avoid a garbage can fire. Keeping these helpful safety tips in mind will make you more aware of fire safety and prevention.

According to the NFPA, Fire Prevention Week started in 1925 at the urging of President Calvin Coolidge to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which started on Oct. 8, 1870. The fire burned for over a day, destroyed four square miles of land and killed hundreds.

NFPA has sponsored Fire Prevention Week since its origin in 1925.