Weird fire tales can help teach prevention

While looking for new and different ways to educate your community about fire safety, these stories can make your audience laugh and learn

How many of us have responded to fires that were caused by people doing stupid things? Put another way, how many of our fires were caused by intelligent rational thoughts? While we are tasked with educating our community about the hazards of unsafe practices, we are looking for new and different twists to get the attention of our audiences.

I see no problem in finding the humor in some of these situations, which in turn causes learning in our audience (at least we hope it does). I have outlined some of the flawed thinking that have started fires recently, and if you feel you can use these in a fun (but educational) way, then feel free to.

The first true story has to do with the passing of a 73-year-old woman. Her 69-year-old sister has preserved the body in the home, not telling anyone of the passing of the woman, while she attempted to resuscitate her in a number of strange ways.

First, she felt she must come up with a way of preserving the body. She decided that using gasoline was the way to do that. After numerous failed attempts, she decided that she would "jump start" her now mummified corpse with the wires from a battery connecting the body’s hands and neck to the main terminals.

This electric current did not revive the body. Instead, it set the body (and the house) on fire, and the sister who conducted this experiment suffered multiple burns and a severe case of smoke inhalation.

Our next true story comes out of Ohio, where a man had a problem with bedbugs in his home. The best course of action he could come up with was spraying the couch with rubbing alcohol. He did this while he was smoking a cigarette. I could not determine if he was successful or not in this attempt to alleviate his bedbug problem, but he did get transported to a burn center for treatment for the burns he suffered on both of his hands.

In Portland, Oregon, home residents cut a small hole in their family room floor to use as an ashtray. As the ashes and cigarettes were discarded down the hole, a fire broke out in the basement of the home, causing more than 30,000 dollars-worth of damage. What a surprise.

Some of my favorites have to do with improvised early warning devices. For these folks, the five dollars required for the most basic model of smoke alarm seemed a bit out of reach of their financial situation, so they had to come up with an alternative method of warning. One person put a small trim nail high on a wall in their home and placed a container of Jiffy Pop popcorn on it.

The thought was the heat of the fire would cook the popcorn and the sound of the popping corn would serve as a warning and wake them up. Either that, or the smell of fresh popcorn may do the trick. Additionally, they now have a snack to enjoy as they watch their home burn.

Another homeowner thought that if they placed a package of firecrackers on top of a dresser, the high heat conditions would set off the firecrackers, warning the homeowners of a problem. I recommend neither of these approaches.

While looking for new and different ways to educate your community about fire safety, these stories can make your audience laugh and learn.

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

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