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.

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