Besides working full-time for Livonia Fire Rescue, I love teaching and learning about other fire departments, the various fire causes and ways to keep our citizens safer from the ravages of fire. Every once in a while, I have to stop and scratch my head.
The United States has many more fires per capita than almost every other country out there. We also rate poorly on the fire death and injury rate as well, falling far behind most other comparable countries. So, why do we have so many fires?
One reason may be our national attitude on fires. In the United States, we call so many of them “accidental.” That merely means they were not deemed intentional. These fires could, in most cases, have been prevented with some common sense and fire safety practices put into place. If we have someone lose their home by fire, we do the neighborly thing and help them get through the tough times with outpourings of gifts and money. In Japan and other countries, severe penalties are imposed regardless of how unintentional the fire was. The crime is called “grave negligence” and can lead to sentences of imprisonment.
In Germany, you are personally liable for the damage done to anyone else's property if you were found to have caused the fire. If someone dies in the fire, it is a manslaughter charge. In France, insurance companies design their policies so that you will suffer a loss after any fire, even if it is not your fault. In Switzerland, insurance proceeds are used only to rebuild exactly the same structure on the same lot. No cash is given or offered, which keeps their arson rate much lower than ours.
Love it or hate it, the system we have is what we have. It's probably not going to change much in the near future. Let's take a look at how we can keep our homes safer from fire. First and foremost, have plenty of working smoke alarms in the home. Go around the home and test them with the family there, so that they can begin to recognize the sound it makes when it is activating. Take a look at your insurance coverage to make sure any loss you may take is an acceptable risk for your family. Many insurance companies offer a “home security” discount, giving you a reduction in premiums if you have deadbolts on your doors, smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher. Check into it.
Now head outside and make sure any fire you or your neighbor may have will not be able to easily spread to your home. Keep the grass and shrubs watered, eliminate long overhanging foliage, and clean up any stored materials between houses and garages. Install motion sensor lighting as a deterrent to people who don't belong in your yard. These simple steps can go a long way when it comes to fire safety.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.