By Tom Kiurski
As I search the stories from around the country, there are some that bring out great lessons for us all. One such story has to do with smoke alarms and the state of Iowa. It has to do with how working smoke alarms saved 12 lives in less than three hours.
The first fie involved a mother and four young children who were at home and sleeping at the time of the fire. The fire started in the kitchen of the home. While the fire is still under investigation, many of these fires start when cooking has begun and then forgotten about and left unattended. Eventually, a fire breaks out, which can easily spread through kitchen cupboards and nearby combustibles. The family was awakened by the sound of their smoke alarm, which responded to the smoke from the fire. Everyone made it out of the home safely and met outside.
Just two hours later, another report of smoke in a house with smoke alarms sounding was called in to the local emergency dispatch center. Upon arrival of the fire department, there was heavy, black smoke coming out of the front door. Firefighters geared up and entered the home and descended into the basement where the fire was raging out of control. The fire started in the clothes dryer. Often, when lint is not cleaned from the dryer, it can build up and the heat from the dryer can catch the lint on fire. This type of fire can then spread to clothing and surrounding combustibles. This family was awakened by the sound of the smoke alarms. They awoke and smelled the smoke and took action to exit the home. The mother and her children left the house quickly and without injury. Another seven lives were saved by working smoke alarms.
While this is unusual to have two fires of this size in just a few hours of each other that lead to lives saved, the stories are factual. Smoke alarms do save lives. It is important that we have working smoke alarms on every level of the home, especially in or near sleeping areas. These smoke alarms need to be tested monthly and the batteries changed at least once a year. They should be installed on the ceiling or high on a wall, where heat and smoke collect before banking downward.
But smoke alarms are one piece of the home fire safety plan. There are many more things that can be done to reduce your risk of fire and prepare you to escape quickly if a fire breaks out. Plan on how you would leave your home if a fire breaks out. If the doors were blocked by flames, does everyone know how to unlock and open the windows in the home and push the screen out to exit? Make sure those people who sleep upstairs know how to get down if the stairs are blocked. A window may lead to an outside lower roof, such as a garage. If not, portable escape ladders are inexpensive and can easily store under the bed until needed.
Take a few minutes and check your smoke alarms. Bring the family along. Then discuss the family escape plan, including an outside meeting place. You'll be safer for it.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.