Plan two ways out of fire

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - TERRY BRIDGE Strat­ford Bea­con Her­ald

STRAT­FORD — Af­ter one of the re­gion’s dead­li­est fire sea­sons in years last win­ter, South­west­ern On­tario of­fi­cials have added rea­son to un­der­line fire-pre­ven­tion in their an­nual cam­paign this week.

A se­ries of blazes ripped through homes in South­ern On­tario late last year, killing 18 peo­ple. The re­gional toll was felt from Wood­stock to St.Thomas, and in a Lon­don-area na­tive com­mu­nity where a fam­ily of five died in a house fire that in­ves­ti­ga­tors later de­ter­mined was set by a child. As the home heat­ing sea­son ar­rives, the key to avoid­ing sim­i­lar tragedies is ed­u­ca­tion and pre­ven­tion, of­fi­cials in­sist as Fire Pre­ven­tion Week, or­ga­nized by the Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, be­gins.

This year’s theme — “Ev­ery sec­ond counts: Plan two ways out” — draws a line to ev­ery house­hold, urg­ing oc­cu­pants to make plans to es­cape a blaze not through one exit but two.

“It’s im­por­tant for ev­ery­body in the home to plan two ways out of their home,” said Jack Burt, Lon­don’s as­sis­tant deputy fire chief. “It’s also im­por­tant to have a meet­ing place out­side where ev­ery­body knows where they are.”

While the fre­quency of fire calls is un­pre­dictable, based purely on sea­sons, Burt said there’s typ­i­cally a spike as tem­per­a­tures be­gin to drop.

“When you start putting home heat­ing into play — wood stoves, stuff of that na­ture — there’s a po­ten­tial for a greater risk of fire,” he said, not­ing the im­por­tance of clean­ing chim­neys and fire­places and proper main­te­nance of heat­ing ap­pli­ances.

Be­sides fire risks, home heat­ing sea­son brings the risk of poi­son­ing from car­bon monox­ide, an odour­less, colour­less gas emit­ted dur­ing the com­bus­tion process. Fur­nace and other ex­haust vents blocked by snow or other ob­struc­tion can cause car­bon monox­ide to build up un­no­ticed in­side a home.

Car­bon monox­ide de­tec­tors, not just smoke alarms, are now manda­tory out­side all sleep­ing ar­eas in On­tario homes where fuel-burn­ing takes place, a move the prov­ince adopted more than three years ago in the fall­out of a 2008 tragedy in Wood­stock when a fam­ily of four, in­clud­ing an OPP of­fi­cer, died af­ter a blocked chim­ney al­lowed car­bon monox­ide to ac­cu­mu­late in­side their house.

St. Marys fire Chief Richard Anderson said win­ter typ­i­cally height­ens his de­part­ment’s calls.

“As we head into the win­ter, we tend to find more res­i­dences and struc­tural-type in­ci­dents,” he said.

This week’s fire-pre­ven­tion cam­paign should be a timely safety re­minder for all, said Neil Anderson, Strat­ford’s deputy fire chief. “It’s al­ways good at this time of year to give that re­fresher to eve- ry­one,” he said.

The stag­ger­ing run of deadly house fires in South­ern On­tario last De­cem­ber in­cluded a blaze on the Oneida First Na­tion set­tle­ment, south­west of Lon­don, where a fa­ther and four boys, in­clud­ing a baby, died. The mother of the boys and four other kids weren’t home at the time. In­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined the fire had been set by one the chil­dren who died.

The fire broke out in bit­ter cold in the com­mu­nity of 1,300, and came amid an­other deadly house fire in Port Col­borne, where two women and two chil­dren died.

House fires last sea­son also killed in Wood­stock, where two peo­ple died in sep­a­rate blazes days apart in De­cem­ber, in Palmer­ston, where an­other res­i­dent died that month and in St. Thomas, where a New Year’s Day blaze killed a 58-year-old man.

Fire Pre­ven­tion Week is timed to co­in­cide with the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a three-day in­ferno that killed 300 peo­ple and dis­placed 100,000.

Dur­ing fire-pre­ven­tion week, some de­part­ments will sim­u­late house fires and evac­u­a­tion drills, as Lon­don’s de­part­ment plans to do Tues­day — fill­ing a house at 98 El­do­rado Ave. with fake smoke.

“When fire starts, fire spreads quite fast and the po­ten­tial for flashover in a home can be as quick as three min­utes, which means that no­body can sur­vive in the home at that point,” Burt said.

The fall fire-pre­ven­tion cam­paign also comes with re­minders for house­hold­ers to change the bat­ter­ies in their smoke and car­bon monox­ide de­tec­tors.

For more in­for­ma­tion on fire pre­ven­tion week, go to nfpa.org.

FILE PHOTO

A house fire on Oneida Na­tion of the Thames, south­west of Lon­don, killed a fa­ther and four boys, in­clud­ing a baby. In­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined the fire had been set by one the chil­dren who died, but did not say how.

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