Remember Smokey the Bear’s slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” In the wake of a host of preventable building fires, including in the Greater Atlanta area, a school fire and a house fire which took four lives from the same family due to a surviving child having played with a lighter, it is very appropriate to add, “Only you can prevent building fires.”
In the case of both of these recent fires, as with so many others, the lack of working smoke detectors led to actual or potential tragedies.
Having survived two major fires myself, I am particularly sensitive to the many often-preventable fire risks and hazards. As an emergency manager and code enforcement officer in New England, here are some of the approaches I developed, which need to be applied elsewhere:
1) Periodic spot checks for working smoke detectors and fire alarms should be conducted by code enforcement and fire department officials (as time permits), covering all buildings in each city, town and rural area, at least once each year.
2) All mortgage lenders should include attention-getting notices with mortgage statements, whether sent by regular or electronic mail, to remind mortgage holders to check batteries in smoke, fire and carbon monoxide detectors frequently.
3) All rental properties should be checked by landlords and owners for working detectors at least quarterly. It should be a prosecuted felony to allow properties to be rented when batteries are missing or dead in any such detectors. Landlords should also be required to provide an escape ladder to each and every tenant, particularly in units above ground level.
4) All occupied properties’ residents should be encouraged to develop and rehearse a viable escape plan from their unit.
5) Fire safety plans (as well as other emergency plans, such as safety in tornadoes, hurricanes and societal disasters) should be taught in all elementary and high schools as part of the required curriculum for all students.
6) Regular fire drills, at least monthly, should be conducted in all occupied facilities such as public buildings, senior homes, business firms, stores and shopping centers, hotels, and anywhere else where groups of people may congregate.
7) Each city and town should be required to develop and circulate a viable full emergency plan covering all residents. Emergency management officials and staffs should be responsible for the development and implementation of such plans within one year.
Those recommendations are only illustrative of what needs to be done to maximize our safety and security in the case of fires and indeed other natural and societal disasters. Societal disasters include the various forms of terrorism, domestic and foreign, which have come to afflict us and our society. Forewarned is indeed forearmed, and the price of security, like that of liberty, is, indeed, eternal vigilance!
Dr. Eugene F. Elander