National Fire Prevention Week focuses on family safety

by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs

10/7/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Next week, Maxwell will observe National Fire Prevention Week. This year's theme, "Protect Your Family From Fire," focuses on what families can do to prevent fires in the home. The event allows fire departments across the U.S. to put an emphasis on fire prevention and safety.

The week also commemorates the Great Chicago Fire that occurred Oct. 9, 1871. During the fire more than 17,000 buildings burned, more than 250 people died, and 100,000 people were left homeless, said James Smith, assistant fire chief at Maxwell.

The Maxwell Fire Department has several events planned for the week, including displays at the Maxwell base exchange and Gunter commisary, fire safety presentations at Maxwell Elementary Middle School, youth centers and Hunt Housing Community Center, and a poster and essay contest at the school. The fire department will host an open house at each of its fire stations at Maxwell and Gunter all week long, said Smith.

Every 90 seconds, a house fire is reported in the U.S., and an average of seven people die every day in home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Learning how to prevent fires can reduce these totals, Smith said.

"The most critical part of fire safety is learning how to make our homes and workplaces safer," Smith said. "By developing safe habits, recognizing potentially hazardous conditions or situations and being proactive to eliminate these conditions, we can reduce the number of fires, injuries and deaths that occur."

A large, critical component of the week is the education of school-aged children about fire safety and prevention.

"Fire safety education should start at an early age," said Smith. "That is one of the reasons we spend a lot of time visiting and talking with young children. If they learn safe habits at a young age, they will carry those good habits with them throughout their lives."

Smith also offered some basic tips for keeping your family safe.

"Everyone should have a comprehensive fire safety plan in their home that includes the use of smoke alarms and a home fire escape plan," he said. "Never leave cooking unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, turn off the stove. Test smoke alarms monthly. If you have a battery operated smoke alarm, change the battery when you change the time on your clocks."

Smith also encouraged care when using candles. "Candles should not be used as a source of light during power outages; use a flashlight," he said. "Ensure candles are placed on a noncombustible surface."

While the community benefits from the education offered by the fire departments, the firefighters are also excited to get involved.

"Fire Prevention Week gives everyone in the Maxwell Fire Department the opportunity to get involved in a very important event and do their part in preventing fires in our community," Smith said.

Fire safety and prevention is important all year round, he said, not just next week.

"Develop safe habits, follow some basic fire safety tips every day, and look out for each other," Smith said. "Fire safety is not any one individual's responsibility - it is everyone's."