During this 89th Fire Prevention Week (October 9-15, 2011), take a moment and reflect with me on how far we’ve come and where we need to go to protect our families and communities from fire. Before I discuss some of the changes in the firefighting and fire prevention landscape, the most important thing to remember is you can do your part to make your family safer from the risk of fire.
What You Can Do
The following tips will help you keep your family and homes safer, everyday:
- Establish and practice an emergency escape plan that includes at least two exits out of your home and designate a meeting space outside of your home where first responders can easily see you.
- Properly install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of the home, including the basement, outside sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom.
- Consider installing a residential sprinkler in your home. Residential fire sprinklers protect lives and property by keeping fires small.
- Know that the leading cause of fire and injury in the home is unattended cooking so stand by your pan when you are cooking, frying, grilling, broiling, or barbequing food.
- If you live in an area prone to wildfire, keep the area around your home clear of combustible vegetation.
Learning Lessons From the Past
The threat from fire is ever present. Fire destroys lives and property, that’s why fire prevention is so important. One-hundred and forty years ago, the great Chicago fire consumed much of the city and claimed many lives. The fire fighting community soon recognized such disasters were preventable and society took action. In the process we learned to fight fires with more efficiency. From those destructive fires we learned to better control fires in blocks of buildings, then single buildings, then to just floors in a building, to now, when most fires are contained to the room of origin.
Because of this, society has saved vital resources, improved the urban landscape, and raised the level of safety through legislation, zoning ordinances, upgrading municipal fire defenses, expanding public water supplies, installing fire alarms and automatic fire sprinkler systems in commercial buildings, adopting building and fire codes, developing better building methods and materials, and teaching people how to prevent fire. Doing this was not easy, but it was a decision made by society that fire had to be controlled, and it took the efforts of everyone to make it happen.
While urban infernos are now very rare events, we face new fire-safety challenges. Today, our homes remain a place of great potential risk from fire. Not long ago our furnishings and belongings were mostly cotton, wool, and wood. Now plastic and synthetic materials make up many of the items we use every day and when burned produce greater quantities of deadly heat and toxic smoke compared to natural materials.
Fires in the modern home burn hotter and faster and have more potential fuel to keep the fire going than 50 years ago, presenting a greater challenge to occupant survival and for firefighters to control.
Fire Prevention Week provides the opportunity to reflect on fire-safety readiness and how we can better protect our families and communities from fire. To learn more about preparing your home and family for a fire, visit Ready.gov/fires. If you’re an emergency manager, educator, parent, community leader or concerned citizen, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website for more resources for sharing fire safety information.