Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Fire prevention: The life you save could be your own

by Neal Kedzie - State Senator

October 20, 2011

As a former volunteer firefighter, I have seen homes, businesses, memories, and dreams go up in smoke. Each year, thousands of people die in fires across the nation — more than all natural disasters combined. Most of those deaths, about 85 percent, occur at home. But there are strategies you can use in your home to keep your families safe. Some of those tips are highlighted in National Fire Safety Week observances nationwide.

Last week was National Fire Prevention Week. Fire Prevention week was established to commemorate the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire and the Peshtigo Fire, both of which occurred on Oct. 9, 1871. Although the Chicago Fire was the most famous fire burning on that day, the Peshtigo Fire was larger and more devastating. That blaze roared through Northeast Wisconsin, burning 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres before it was done.

On the 40th anniversary of those fires in 1911, the Fire Marshals Association of North America decided the occasion should be observed by informing the public about the importance of fire prevention. Since 1922, National Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. In the U.S., Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record.

Each year, Fire Prevention Week underscores a simple lesson, the best way to avoid getting injured in a fire is to prevent one in the first place. However, if you are involved in a fire, knowledge is your best defense. Fire can grow and spread so quickly, you may have as few as two minutes to escape safely. When every second can mean the difference between life and death, advance planning is absolutely essential. Being ready to deal with a home fire is not difficult, it just takes a little preparation and some practice.

Last year, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1.3 million fires, which resulted in 3,120 civilian fatalities, 15,420 civilian injuries, and an estimated $9.7 billion in direct property loss. Cooking is the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries and smoking is a leading cause of residential fire deaths. December and January were the peak month for reported home structure fires and home fire deaths.

The single most effective way to prevent fire-related deaths is the installation of smoke alarms in your home. Since the introduction in the 1970s of the battery-powered smoke alarm, the home-fire death rate has been reduced by half. Almost two-thirds of reported home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Smoke alarms often fail because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries, so be sure to check your alarms monthly and replace the batteries as needed.

But working smoke detectors are not enough. Families should practice home fire drills to be certain everyone is familiar with the smoke detector's alarm sound, and to determine if there are any obstacles to a quick and safe evacuation. Have an escape plan that includes two ways out of each room and a meeting place outside the home.

When an alarm sounds, get out of the house, and once out, stay out. Go to a neighbor's house to call for help. Agree on an outside meeting place everyone will go to after they've escaped. If you live in an apartment building, make sure that you are familiar with the building's evacuation plan. In case of a fire, use the stairs, never the elevator.

Many fire departments host open houses during Fire Prevention Week to give demonstrations and educate people about fire prevention. I encourage you to check with your local fire department to find out about possible activities. Even though the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fires continue to decrease, many of these fires and deaths are preventable. Let's work to continue to decrease that number by practicing basic fire safety in our homes.

Sen. Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free 1 (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at