Avoiding another deadly December
As Fire Prevention Week returns, area chiefs hope to avoid another breakout of home blazes
Southwestern Ontario fire prevention officials are hoping to avoid another deadly December.
A series of blazes ripped through homes in that portion of the province during the final month of 2016 – 18 people were killed in communities such as Woodstock, St. Thomas and Palmerston – and the key to avoiding similar tragedies this year is education and prevention.
Enter Fire Prevention Week. Co-ordinated by the National Fire Protection Association, the annual series of events starts Sunday and wraps up Oct. 14.
This year’s theme is, ‘Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out.’
“It’s important for everybody in the home to plan two ways out of their home,” said Jack Burt, assistant deputy fire chief of the London Fire Department. “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 have heating appliances properly maintained.
Over in St. Marys, the town’s fire department is usually dispatched to more houses as snow arrives.
“As we head into the winter we tend to find more residences and structural-type incidents,” fire Chief Richard Anderson said.
Neil Anderson, Stratford’s deputy fire chief, said Fire Prevention Week is a timely safety reminder.
“It’s always good at this time of year to give that refresher to everyone,” he said.
Despite being only 11 years old at the time, Hannah Sims was able to save her two younger siblings through fire-safety education. She rounded up her brothers and the family dog after an electrical fire sparked and quickly spread throughout their rural home near Stratford in June.
Bill Hunter, fire chief for Perth East and West Perth, recognized her with a commendation Thursday night at the station in Sebringville. Prior to the ceremony, Hunter said having a meeting place in a home escape plan changes how firefighters approach a blaze.
“When the fire crews pull up on scene the first question the officer’s going to have for anybody at a structure fire is, ‘Is everybody out of the house?’” Hunter said. “If you don’t say, ‘Yes, everybody’s out of the house,’ then our crews have to assume there still could be somebody in the house and then it changes the way that we attack the fire.”
A building across the street, large tree or mailbox can be suitable meeting spots.
“A common area close to the home, but away from the home if it is on fire so they’re not in harm’s way,” Burt said.
In conjunction with Fire Prevention Week – its timing is based on the Great Chicago Fire, which burned from Oct. 8 to 10 in 1871, killing about 300 and displacing another 100,000 – the London department will be simulating a fire. On Tuesday morning, 98 Eldorado Ave. will be filled with fake smoke and firefighters will be on scene treating it as a real call.
They’ll also be urging onlookers to establish home escape plans and ensure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
“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.
Neil Anderson said they’ll be reminding Stratford residents to change smoke detector batteries during next month’s Daylight Saving Time
For more information on Fire Prevention Week, visit nfpa.org.