In this column, I write about many of the safety aspects of our lives that are highly important but often overlooked. Fires do not strike us very often, and many are handled while they are small. Add to that the way the movie and television industry downplay fires, and it is understandable that it may not be your highest priority. A short while ago, I wrote of one family's numerous mistakes that led to their house burning down. Here, I have found a few more examples of why I hope you have learned enough from this column that would make you scratch your head when you read these stories. Hopefully, you will never repeat these mistakes.
The first true story has to do with the passing of a 73-year-old woman. Her 69-year-old sister had preserved the body in the home, not telling anyone of the passing of the woman, while she attempted to resuscitate her in a number of strange ways. First, she felt she must come up with a way of preserving the body. She decided that using gasoline was the way to do that. After numerous failed attempts, she decided that she would “jump start” her now-mummified corpse with the wires from a battery connecting the body's hands and neck to the main terminals. This electric current did not revive the body. Instead, it set the body (and the house) on fire, and the sister who conducted this experiment suffered multiple burns and a severe case of smoke inhalation.
Our next true story comes out of Ohio, where a man had a problem with bedbugs in his home. The best course of action he could come up with was spraying the couch with rubbing alcohol. He did this while he was smoking a cigarette. I could not determine if he was successful or not in this attempt to alleviate his bedbug problem, but he did get transported to a burn center for treatment for the burns he suffered on both of his hands.
In Portland, Oregon, home residents cut a small hole in their family room floor to use as an ashtray. As the ashes and cigarettes were discarded down the hole, a fire broke out in the basement of the home, causing more than $30,000 worth of damage. What a surprise.
Some of my favorites have to do with improvised early warning devices. For these folks, the $5 required for the most basic model of smoke alarm seemed a bit out of reach of their financial situation so they had to come up with an alternative method of warning. One person put a small trim nail high on a wall in their home and placed a container of Jiffy Pop popcorn on it. The thought was the heat of the fire would cook the popcorn and the sound of the popping corn would serve as a warning and wake them up. Either that, or the smell of fresh popcorn may do the trick. Additionally, they now have a snack to enjoy as they watch their home burn.
Another homeowner thought that if they placed a package of firecrackers on top of a dresser, the high heat conditions would set off the firecrackers, warning the homeowners of a problem. I recommend neither of these approaches. If you cannot afford a basic smoke alarm, or feel you cannot reach the ceiling or upper level of a wall to install them safely, please call your local firefighters for help.
If you ever have thoughts of reviving the dead or killing bedbugs and you want to run your idea past someone, please feel free to stop by one of your local fire stations for some advice.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.