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Simple steps, precautions can prevent fire tragedies

POSTED: November 16, 2013 11:42 p.m.

A number of recent residential fires have increased safety awareness.

“(Space heaters) are one of the biggest issues,” said Capt. Keith Smith, public information officer with the Gainesville Police Department. “We just learned (that) last weekend with the Banks Street house fire (resulting) from a space heater.”

In that Nov. 9 fire, 7-year-old Jeremiah Williams was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital from burns to his head and upper torso. Williams was released from the hospital Thursday.

Other residential fires occurring in the past few weeks include a Nov. 10 fire on Dana Drive in East Hall, a Nov. 7 fire on Sky Lake Circle in Northwest Hall and a Nov. 2 fire on Fieldstone Court in North Hall.

While fire safety should be practiced throughout the year, chances increase as temperatures go down and holidays approach, with more people staying inside, using alternative heating sources and cooking for those big family get-togethers.

Safety officials encourage everyone to practice safety and common sense this season.

Smoke alarms

It’s important to have multiple working smoke alarms per home.

“We recommend having them in every sleeping area,” said Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle. “We used to say in every bedroom, but in this day and age people could be sleeping in the living room, just because of the amount of people in the home.”

Cagle also advised that smoke alarms should also be in every hallway, but not in the kitchen.

Kim Martin, coalition coordinator of Safe Kids, also advises that every home have a carbon monoxide detector.

“(Carbon monoxide) is a byproduct of fuel burning,” she said. “It’s colorless, tasteless and odorless, so if you had a leak, you wouldn’t know it until you were sick.”

The detectors should be tested monthly, and the batteries should be replaced every six months. Martin advises changing the batteries when the time changes. For example, smoke alarm batteries should have been changed over Nov. 2 when daylight saving time kicked in.

And even if you live in a newer home and have the smoke alarm tied in directly to the electric system, batteries should still be installed in the event the electricity goes out.

Space heaters

It’s not recommended for people to use space heaters.

“But we know that people are going to use them,” Cagle said. “It’s just the way we heat our homes down here in the South versus up North.”

He said the most important thing was to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and directions.

The general rule is to make sure a space heater isn’t within 3 feet of anything, especially something like a piece of furniture or curtains.

Smith said 3 feet would be a “little more than arm length” — he also said to just touch a surface and see if it’s getting too hot.

Also, space heaters should be plugged in directly to the wall rather than using an extension cord or surge protector.

When not in use, space heaters should be turned off and unplugged; this should also be done before a person goes to bed at night.

Escape plan

Families should have an escape plan and practice it regularly.

“We’ve seen time after time that children are way more confident of getting out of their school than their own home,” Cagle said. “That is strictly because they practice it at school once a month, and some kids never ever have a home fire drill.”

Cagle said every time the school holds a fire drill, the family should hold a fire drill.

“If families could do it once a quarter, they’re probably already way ahead of the curve,” Cagle said.

Parents should go over multiple escape plans with the younger family members. And, once outside, everyone should know to go to a designated meeting place. Martin suggested the mail box or the neighbor’s yard.

Fireplaces

Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year, particularly if they are a primary heat source.

“We have a lot of (chimney fires) this time of year because people are starting their fireplaces for the first time,” Smith said. While fire residue and soot builds up in the chimney, homeowners also have to be wary of other obstructions, like bird nests that were built there over the summer.

Smith said you should be able to see clear through the fireplace; a professional should always be called in for a cleaning and inspection annually.

Fire extinguishers

A home should have one fire extinguisher per level, and one in the kitchen.

“Some people have shops and hobby rooms in their basement,” Cagle added. “A lot of people keep (extinguishers) in those places.”

He also advised that a kitchen extinguisher shouldn’t be too close to the oven, in case a fire did occur and became too hot for the person to reach the extinguisher.

Smith said that kitchen fires are the No. 1 cause of residential fire injuries. As people begin cooking more, particularly over holidays, he advises proper cooking techniques be followed, including making sure pot handles are turned into the stove. Also, cooks should not wear loose clothing.

“And never leave your cooking unattended,” Smith added. “We’ve all left the room to go check on something real quick. That can turn into a few minutes, or even longer.”


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