(Appeared in the August 2017 issue of The Dispatcher)
August has always been the month that we completed plans for Fire Prevention Week (FPW). This includes activities, school and community events and prevention messages. We always start with the NFPA website for the FPW theme to make sure we are presenting information based on credible national messages from the NFPA and U.S.F.A.
The 2017 theme is “Every Second Counts – Plan 2 Ways Out!” The information can be found at www.nfpa.org under the Public Education Section. NFPA provides free resources including lesson plans, safety tips, coloring sheets and activities. They also produce many products geared for FPW. You may also receive mailers from promotion companies selling their wares.
Recent events throughout the world have focused on the need for fire prevention at home and in the workplace. Tragedies in London and Hawaii show the need for fire prevention. We forget that our neighbors fire will affect us. U.S.F.A.’s slogan is ‘Fire is Everyone’s Fight’ to emphasize that we all play a part in preventing fires. It is said that the three causes of fire are men, women and children. This is true when you look at the fire statistics where causes are listed. A smaller percentage of fires are caused by nature (lightning, other natural causes). That is why prevention messages are so important.
So, what do we focus on from the myriad of fire prevention messages. First, we must look at our community’s fire history: Where are the fires? What are the causes? What did they affect (property or lives)? Were they preventable and what action could have prevented the fire? We must also look at the potential risk of fire with our community: What is the building age? How was it constructed? How is it currently occupied? What are the ages of the occupants? These answers will help us look potential risk and where we need to focus our attention.
Education is the best prevention, especially when delivered by trained fire inspection personnel. We must remember that it is every firefighters job to provide fire prevention. The recent Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California is pointing at the fire department for failure to inspect the building. Reports stated that fire personnel had been to the property several times but referrals were not followed up by the inspectors or the referring fire official. It is everyone’s duty to prevent the next fire.
Prevention includes not only practices, but also protection, like alarms and fire sprinklers These engineered systems help to alert people and activate to reduce damage or injury. It is important to maintain these life-safety systems with proper inspection, testing and maintenance. These systems work to protect the occupant and are highly successful when alarm systems are integrated with fire suppression systems. The Grenfell Tower Fire in London shows that alarm systems alone cannot prevent injury and death, as well as huge property loss. The loss of life was 79 people along with many people injured. The building was a total loss. This building was not protected by a fire sprinkler system. Compare this with a fire in a high-rise apartment building in Youngstown, Ohio that was extinguished by fire sprinklers with no reported injuries and minor fire damage.
Please remember that we all play a part in preventing fires. Smokey the Bear said it best decades ago, “Only You Can Prevent (Forest) Fires.” For more information on how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please contact Marty King at [email protected] or visit www.nfsawi.org, www.nfsa.org, and www.homefiresprinkler.org.