Vail Valley Voices: Don’t let guard down with fire |

Vail Valley Voices: Don’t let guard down with fire

Al Bosworth
Vail, CO, Colorado

In October 1871, there were two devastating fires that occurred almost simultaneously. The best known of the two fires is the Great Chicago Fire.

Everyone has heard the story of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow supposedly kicking over a lantern and starting a fire that burned over a third of the city. That fire killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed more than 17,400 structures.

The other, lesser known, fire was even more destructive. It was called the Peshtigo fire. It started in Wisconsin and burned into the upper peninsula of Michigan. That fire burned down 16 entire towns, killed 1,152 people, and burned over 1.2 million acres. Imagine a forest fire 20 miles wide and 80 miles long generating hurricane force winds and moving faster than any warning that could be delivered at the time.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation to commemorate these two giant fires. Every year since then, the fire service has used the first week of October to emphasize fire prevention throughout the United States. Particular attention is paid to educating school age children about fire prevention in the hope that the fire safety messages will spread to the children’s homes and parents.

This year Fire Prevention Week was Oct. 4-10. The public school systems in the United States are always a major focus of fire prevention activities, and this valley was no exception.

Fire inspections are conducted on commercial businesses regularly to assist businesses with preventing fire losses. However, the majority of fires usually occur in other occupancies, mainly private homes. By starting to visit with children as early as preschool, firefighters hope to reach as many people as possible. It is hoped that the students will encourage their parents to look around the house to identify potential hazards. Some of the things that the kids are taught:

• All about EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home). How to get out and where to meet in the event of a fire. Fire drills are practiced monthly at every school, yet according to the NFPA, only 16 percent of the households have practiced a fire drill at home.

• Crawling low in smoke and feeling doors prior to opening them. Smoke rises and crawling low will give you more visibility and time to escape. Feeling the door with the back of your hand will alert you to the possibility of fire on the other side of the door.

• Stop, Drop, and Roll. What to do if your clothes catch on fire. How to protect your face and put out the fire.

• To change the batteries in their smoke detectors when the clocks are changed in the fall. According to the National Fire Prevention Agency survey, 22 percent of the people had their smoke detectors disabled and 81 percent had assumed that any activation was just a nuisance and ignored the warnings. Many children not used to the noise of an alarm clock slept through detector activations.

• If your home has a gas fired appliance or wood burning fireplace, install a carbon monoxide detector within 15 feet of each bedroom.

• How and when to dial 911. What the operator is going to ask and what to say.

According to the National Fire Prevention Agency , 58 percent of the respondents felt they had more than two minutes to escape a house fire and 24 percent believed they had 10 minutes or more before life threatening conditions developed. A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds and a typical living room fire can become deadly in two minutes or less after the alarm sounds. In fact, a fire has the potential to kill in as little as four minutes after its inception.

The fires of today are far more deadly, due in part to the variety of new chemicals used in construction. Some building products can give off an assortment of toxic fumes and exposure to as little as 10 parts per million of some of the byproducts can cause serious health problems.

Practice the EDITH drills in your home just like kids do for fire drills at school. Take the kids on your own “fire prevention inspection” around the house. Let them help you look for possible fire causes.

Check your extinguishers. Put a smoke detector on every level of your house and in each bedroom. Install a CO detector within 15 feet of each bedroom. Test your detectors to ensure they work and familiarize family members with the sounds they make.

Look for frayed wires on electrical cords. Check extension cords to ensure they are large enough to supply the amperage needed to run the appliance without overheating. Have your wood burning appliance inspected annually by a licensed/certified chimney sweep/inspector.

Put fireplace ashes in a metal container and store the container in a safe place until the ashes are cold.

Don’t store flammable materials in any room with a furnace, boiler, hot water heater or other gas fired appliance.

Prevent a disaster or tragedy before it has a chance to occur. Listen to and learn from your children. Sometimes it’s the children who teach and parents get to learn!

Al Bosworth is on Vail’s fire department.

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