STILLMAN VALLEY – The recent deadly fires in Ogle County are a reminder of the importance of fire safety.
Chad Hoefle, fire chief of the Stillman Fire Protection District, said that fire safety is everyone’s responsibility. With 21 years experience with Stillman Fire, Hoefle has plenty of advice on ways to keep safe.
He sat down to answer some questions about fire safety.
Question: Are there any special precautions people should take when it comes to fire safety during the holidays?
Answer: Holiday’s pose some very real issues when it comes to Fire Prevention. Many people assume dry Christmas trees are the number one cause of home fires during the holidays and that is statistically false. Cooking is the number one cause of holiday fires. Candles come in a close second. Bottom line, do not leave anything unattended when it comes to fire.
Q: Are space heaters a fire concern?
A: Vented combustion heaters are safer, but since those are designed to be used in a permanent location next to an exterior wall (to allow for a vent to the outside), they are not exactly portable. However, while there's no carbon monoxide risk, electric space heaters still can be a safety hazard if used improperly. Also, space heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet and not into power strips. One of the main concerns with space heaters is making sure they are far from combustibles. If you have any questions, please follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Q: How can a family develop their own emergency evacuation plan?
A: One of the best ways is to visit your local Firehouse. Many fire departments have in home projects for fire prevention week where a family can create a plan for everyone. If you that’s not an option, some of the main goals to an escape plan are using EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home).
Draw a floor plan of your home and mark 2 ways out of every room, especially the bedrooms. Go over these escape routes with every member of your household.
Agree on a meeting place outside your house where every member of the household will meet after escaping a fire and wait there for the fire department to arrive. This lets you count heads to make sure everyone is there, and to tell the fire department if anyone is missing. Never go back inside!
Practice your escape plan often. Hold drills in your home. Appoint someone to be a monitor and have everyone take part in each drill. A fire drill is not a race, but practice to get out quickly ... remember to be careful.
Make your fire drill realistic ... pretend that some exits are blocked by fire and practice getting out different escape routes. Pretend that the lights are out and that some escape routes are getting smoke in them. As loud as they are, some people sleep right through smoke detectors. You will not know this unless you practice. If someone in your home tends to sleep through them, place one closer to them or come up with a plan that allow them to be notified as well.
Be Prepared ... make sure everyone in the house can unlock all the doors and windows quickly, even in the dark.
If you live in a two story house and you must escape from a second floor window, be sure there is a safe way to reach the ground. Make special arrangements for kids, older adults, and people with disabilities. People who might have trouble moving should have a telephone they can easily get to in their bedroom, and if possible, should sleep on the ground level floor.
Test doors before opening them ... while kneeling or crouching at the door, reach up as high as you can and with the back of your hand (it's more sensitive than the front of your hand to feel things such as heat), touch the door, the doorknob, and the space between the door and its frame. If the door is hot, use another way out. If the door is cool, open it slowly.
If you are trapped, close all doors between you and the fire. Stuff the cracks around the doors with clothes or anything to help keep the smoke out of the room you are in. Wait at a window and signal for help with a light-colored cloth (use a pillow case, sheet, anything light colored) or a flashlight if you have one. If there is a phone in the room, call the fire department and tell them exactly where you are.
Get out fast ... In case of fire, do not stop for anything. Do not try to rescue anything, including pets. After you get out, go directly to your meeting place and then call for the fire department from a neighbor's. I say that because even stopping to grab your cell phone is a delay in getting out.
Crawl low under smoke. Smoke contains deadly gases and heat rises. During a fire, the cleaner air will be down near the floor. If you find smoke when using your primary exit (your 1st way out), then use your alternate escape plan (2nd way out). If you must get out of the house through smoke, get down and crawl on your hands and knees ... even down on your belly if you have to ... and keep your head close to the floor where the "good" air is so you can breathe easier (and it’s not as hot down there).
Stay out... once you are out of the house, do not go back in for any reason. If people are trapped, the firefighters have the best chance of rescuing them. Firefighters have the training, experience, and the protective clothing and equipment needed to enter a burning building. Most of the time, those people that go back into a house that is burning do not come back out alive. Remember, we can replace toys and TV's and clothes ... but we can never replace you!
Don't be stupid ... More than half of all fatal home fires happen at night while people are sleeping. One of the first body senses to go to sleep is that of smell. Working Smoke Detectors act like a big nose smelling the air all night for you. If a fire starts, the Smoke Detectors will sound an alarm alerting you before you can become trapped or overcome by smoke. With working Smoke Detectors, your risk of dying in a home fire is cut almost in half. Install Smoke Detectors outside of every bedroom and on every level of your home including the basement. Follow the installation instructions carefully and test all of the Smoke Detectors at least once every month. Change Smoke Detector batteries at least once every year. We like to tell you twice a year, but follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Q: What is the minimal fire safety equipment that homes should have?
A: Every home needs smoke detectors with batteries! You wouldn’t believe how many homes we go into in which the homeowner does have detectors, but do not have power to those detectors. There is no requirement on fire extinguishers in a home but if you have a fireplace or just feel the need to have them, they are not a bad idea. Again, you must know where they are and how to use them. If you have a fire in your home you must also realize getting out and being safe is the number one priority and fire extinguishment comes in second.
Q: If there is a fire in their home, what should people do?
A: Get out, stay out! Contact 911. Do not go back in for any reason. Have as much information for the fire department when they arrive. They are prepared to enter a burning structure, you are not.
Q: Do you have any additional tips to help keep people safe from fire?
A: A plan is only as good as the paper it’s written on if it is not practiced. I do a fire drill with my children every month. We have a refrigerator magnet we got during fire prevention week that has all the months listed, and the kids get to mark off when the drill is done. The kids were little when we started and the detectors scared them when we would practice so each month starting out I would include them and let them know what they needed to do when they heard the beeping sound. Each month I changed it just a little (kids in different rooms, time of day, etc). Now they know to get out, stay out!
There is also the concept of keeping doors shut in your home. There are many studies of survival rates when people have a door shut. Most people think that they will be woken up by fire if there is an event in their home when in fact, smoke has the ability to take a life before someone can even react to a fire. The byproducts of smoke can disorient someone to a point where they do not know how to get out. Keep bedroom doors shut! Especially for children. I know people want to keep doors open so they can hear their children or so the children are not scared, but safety is the main goal for our families.
Never hesitate to contact your local Fire Department. If you live within the Stillman Fire Protection District, stop by anytime Monday – Friday 8-5 and we will be glad to assist in any way we can. There are a lot of components to fire prevention. As a Fire Department, we would much rather you not have to call us, but we will be there for you if you do.