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Community Focus
by Tom Kiurski

The hard lessons of others on fire safety

What the experiences of the complacent, malicious and outright stupid can teach the rest about fire safety

By Tom Kiurski

If for any reason you think any of the following was a good idea, quickly respond to the nearest fire academy or fire-prevention division for a dose of fire-safety education. And perhaps a deeper evaluation is in order.

The first incident was reported to a Texas fire department in the early evening hours.

The callers had been cooking on the grill in their home's garage. When they finished cooking, they realized that the house was cold — so they moved the grill inside.

The call came in for headaches and flu-like symptoms for all five occupants of the house. Although the grill was no longer in the flaming combustion mode, it was still burning and giving off dangerous products of combustion.

A carbon monoxide alarm would have alerted them of this if they had had one.

Controlled burn
A fire department in Arizona was called when a homeowner was burning weeds outside his mobile home. The fire spread across the dry crabgrass under the mobile home where it then caught the home on fire.

I know that pulling weeds can be a cumbersome chore, but the time and effort saved by using open flames during a drought isn't worth the price of a home.

The next story comes from Pennsylvania, where a second-story apartment dweller wanted to kill her first-floor counterpart. She decided to set four fires inside her second-floor apartment, which she figured would then burn down into the first-floor apartment.

Unfortunately for her, fire doesn't initially spread downward; it moved upward. Who knew? She did manage to totally destroy her apartment and some of the other apartments on her floor and the floor above.

I know we can't get along with everyone, but can't we just ignore those that we don't like to deal with?

California dreaming
Finally, out of California, a woman decided to cook French fries and forgot about them once the process was started. Of the 16 units in the apartment building, four were destroyed, four were damaged by fire and eight others were damaged by smoke or water.

Just two hours later, these firefighters were called to a fire where a woman left candles burning in her bedroom and forgot about them. Her mobile home was completely destroyed and her cat is still missing.

Any open flame is dangerous and must be watched over by responsible adults. It seems that all of these homes had adults, but the "responsible" part may have been lacking.

The problem is that fire is such an everyday occurrence in most homes that people get complacent about it. Any fire can burn out of control and destroy property, homes and lives. 

Smoke alarms can give early warning of fires and products of combustion, but only if they have a good power source and are checked regularly for proper operation.

Don't let stories like these happen to your residents.

Use these stories to educate your residents about fire safety. Sometimes, an icebreaker gets the audience in a more receptive mood.

These stories didn't turn out well, and perhaps it is for that reason that they do drive home the point.

About the author

Tom Kiurski has been in the fire service since 1981. He is the Training Coordinator and Director of Fire Safety Education for Livonia, Mich., Fire & Rescue. He has served as a firefighter/paramedic, engineer and lieutenant prior to his appointment as the training coordinator. He has earned an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., a Bachelors Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Tom teaches fire service-related courses at local colleges and fire academies. He has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis seven times, as well as numerous state and local conferences. He has written more than 300 articles on fire safety education and training that have appeared in various fire service publications. Contact Tom at Tom.Kiurski@firerescue1.com.


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