It's that time of the year when many of us preach, "Change your clock. Change your battery." This is an important and commonsense fire safety message sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and Energizer brand batteries. It is such an important lesson for firefighters to get out to the general public. But are we practicing what we preach?
We are aware of the dangers fire provides. We see its results day in and day out. But are we complacent when it comes to our own homes? Do we have the same attitude as the general public when it comes to fires in our own homes? Do we think, "it will never happen in my house?" Unfortunately fire doesn't discriminate between the general public and firefighters homes.
Smoke detectors are such an important part of our own homes' safety system. Statistics from the NFPA show that if you have working smoke detectors in your home, your chances of dying in a fire are cut in half. According to the NFPA, only one-fifth of fire deaths in the home from 1989 to 1998 were caused by fires where a smoke alarm was present and operated. Are we testing our own smoke detectors at least once a month and changing the batteries when we change the clock?
Another important fire safety lesson is having an escape plan. This includes knowing at least two ways out of every room in the house, and making sure exits are clear and not blocked by things like furniture or an air conditioner. It's also important to make sure that all windows can be opened easily and are not painted shut. An easy way to test your escape plan is to have a fire drill in your home. We are mandated to hold fire drills in our schools; but the facts show that most fire deaths happen to children (and parents) in their homes. Have you run a fire drill at home recently?
An integral part of any escape plan is having a meeting place somewhere outside the house that everyone knows to go to in case of a fire. Make sure all your family members and any overnight guests know where the meeting place is. Are we, as firefighters, making sure all of our family members and any who are visiting know at least two ways out and where to meet outside in the event of a house fire? Or if we are the ones visiting, do we ask our host's where their meeting place is?
The greatest leaders are those who lead by example. Since 9-11, more than ever, firefighters are looked up to and considered to be leaders in their communities. Are we setting the proper example with our own behavior?
When was the last time you changed the batteries in your own smoke detectors? When was the last time you tested all the detectors in your home? When was the last time you held a fire drill in your home? Hopefully, the answer to these questions is "recently." But if it isn't, maybe NOW is the time to do so. The couple of minutes you take to do it could be the best minutes of your life if a fire happens at your house.