By Kevin Fox
Clark County Elementary children have had some special visitors recently as local firefighters have shared with the students the dangers of fires in their homes and safety tips in prevention. They have also spoke to the students about steps they should take if a fire should occur in their homes. October is Fire Prevention Month and reasoning behind the designation is that the Great Chicago Fire where hundreds were killed and about four square miles of Chicago destroyed and destroying about four square miles of Chicago occurred on October 8 & 9 of 1871.
However fire can and does occur at anytime at any location and regardless of size they are all serious. To better inform our readers, three local fire departments were contacted and personnel from those departments shared ideas about the dangers of fires and prevention tips.
James Steele is the Fire Chief of the Alexandria Fire Department and has also been involved in making elementary students involved about the dangers of fires. Steel stated, "The first and most important thing to remember is that fires can start at anytime anywhere. A year ago today (October 17) there was a fire in a nearby town where a child playing with matches caught a house on fire and a 72 year-old woman lost her life as a result of that fire. Another fire broke out a week ago in Keokuk that was caused by a child with matches or a lighter. It’s imperative that we talk to our children about these things and do not leave matches or lighters laying around where young children can get their hands on them. Children playing with matches or lighters cause most fires.
It’s also very important that the first steps you take in making your home safer is to purchase smoke alarms. These things save lives and are very inexpensive but could certainly mean the difference of everyone escaping a fire or someone perishing in a fire. But it just doesn’t stop there. Test the alarm regularly and replace the batteries periodically. Fire departments urge you to test the alarm once a month and change the batteries twice a year. A good time for this in order that you do not forget it is to change the batteries at the same time when you change your clock in the fall and in the spring.
And by all means take a tip from what we are teaching the children, if a fire should occur in your home, "GET OUT and STAY OUT!" If something or someone needs to be recovered from the fire, let the firemen do it. There is nothing material in the house that cannot be replaced, so do not go back in once you are out. That’s what we are trained and equipped to do. Do not make things worse by having two people somewhere in the home that we have to try and find. And have a designated meeting place where everyone is suppose to head to after they have gotten out of the house. That meeting place may be a large tree in the back yard or the mailbox in front of the house. But talk this over often about where family members are suppose to go in order to get out of the house and where they are suppose to be once out of the house. To make sure that everyone is on the same page have a quick fire drill during the year, it will only take a couple minutes, but that rehearsal could save lives!
Another serious concern and a fire starter are overloaded extension cords. An overloaded outlet can cause a fire. And as we go into winter remember those space heaters. There will be a recommendation on the heater about how far it should be kept from furniture or curtains. However, I would recommend that you place them in the center of the room. It’s also important that you do not keep these heaters running after you go to bed. Turn them off when no one is awake to oversee the heaters use. Use an additional cover if it’s cool when you retire to bed.
Other concerns are to keep flammable material such as paper plates or napkins away from the stove. Everyone keeps those kinds of items in the kitchen, but keep them a safe distance away from the stove. This includes potholders."
Mick Wood, Assistant Fire Chief for the fire departments of Kahoka & Clark County Rural, shared his thoughts on fire prevention, "Currently, elementary students are being taught fire prevention tips as well as what to do if a fire should occur in their homes. It’s important that when these students come home and are excited about what they have learned that we as parents take time that very second about what should be done in our homes if a fire should occur. Plan those escape routes and set a meeting place for everyone to gather after they escape the house. We should also make everything positive. Do not tell them not to do this or not go here, instead tell them what they should do. That way there will be less confusion and fewer things for them to consider if a fire should occur.
I responded to quite a few fires and there are various causes for those fires, but a lot of them came down to common sense issues. For example space heaters are wonderful appliances and completely safe when used as the manufacture recommends. But do not put space heaters on too light of an extension cord. While the extension cord may be warm when in use, it should not be hot. If it’s hot to the touch then there is either a problem with the cord or the appliance. And often extension cords are
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placed under furniture or under rugs where they cannot be tripped over. So if the cord is hot or has a weak spot where it has been damaged by furniture sitting on it, that’s where the problem arises. Make sure that the extension cord you use is rated high enough to handle the load you are placing on it.
And while we are not seeing as many problems as we once did, flue fires are still a very real danger. This is especially true this time of year when homeowners may be building just a small fire to take the chill out of the house. Wood burning stoves burn most efficiently when they are burning hot. If you start out with just a small fire, that is the time when creosote will develop in the flue, not when the fire is burning hot and clean. If you do not want a high heat fire, at least start out with one to burn everything out clean and then shut the damper down. But to be one the safe side check out that flu at least a couple times a year and have a regular maintenance program when you have a chimney sweep come in and clean it out even if you do not see anything. Flue fires burn incredibly hot and sound just like a blowtorch. The only thing that you can do is to shut the flue down and close the air off to it the best you can.
In new homes we see circuit breakers in use instead of fuses, but there are still a number of homes still using fuses. The problems which occur with fuses is that people will find a 30 amp fuse and put that in the fuse box to replace a blown 20 amp fuse. Fuses are rated at different amps and the rating is to protect the wire in your home so that you will blow a fuse before a problem occurs in the wire. Even though 20 amp is the recommended fuse for #12 wire that is for a 20 amp service, people will come in and say, "I’m getting tired of blowing fuses so I’m going to a heavier fuse. They may get by with that for a while but eventually it will cost them, as they are not using a fuse at the proper rating to protect that wire from over loading and overheating."