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Celebrate 100 years of fire prevention with a safe house!

A burning house is a nightmare, causing devastating damage and sometimes even injury or death.

That’s why 100 years ago the National Fire Protection Association initiated Fire Prevention Week. This year’s week, Oct. 9 -15, has the theme “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.”

Instead of a bang or a blaze, this anniversary is best celebrated with quiet family meetings to discuss escape routes and maybe a trip to the store to get new batteries or even new smoke detectors.

In anticipation of this centennial Fire Prevention Week, we talked to both Aberdeen and Hoquiam fire departments to gather tips on how to prevent home fires here in Grays Harbor.

However, before passing along their insights, let’s take a quick look at fire prevention history.

History of Fire Prevention Week

The Great Chicago Fire roared through the Windy City on Oct. 8-10, 1871, killing at least 250 people, leaving another 100,000 homeless and destroying more than 17,400 structures.

Some say this terrible conflagration started with Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocking over a lit lantern, but most now believe it was a neighbor in the barn. Regardless of the exact cause, the blaze that destroyed Chicago did begin in Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s barn. Now at that very site, the Chicago Fire Department has its training academy!

In 1922, the National Fire Protection Agency sponsored the first public observance of Fire Prevention Week. Three years later, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week as a national observation. The week chosen always includes Oct. 9 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire.

What are the stats around here?

Sadly, despite a huge improvement in building codes and construction practices in the last 100 years, residential fires are not a thing of the past.

In Aberdeen, there were 24 residential structure fires in 2021 and 16 residential structure fires so far this year, according to Dave Golding, interim fire chief.

Matt Miller, chief of the Hoquiam Fire Department, said in Hoquiam there were 31 confirmed residential fires in 2021 and 16 as of the end of August 2022.

Aberdeen’s Golding said that the department is seeing a lot of misuse of extension cords leading to fires.

“Extension cords are intended to be used as a temporary means of supplying power. Often, we find fires that started because extension cords are used improperly, heating up to the point of ignition,” Golding said.

“Additionally, the amount of combustibles collected in an area can contribute to fire spread,” he said. “Keeping an area clean and picked up can help reduce fire spread.”

Hoquiam’s Chief Miller says that city hasn’t seen any particular trends for recent fires. However, he said, “we have had a couple involving electronics.”

“When you purchase a new battery-operated device, please leave a sufficient area around the device when charging,” Miller urged. “When charging the batteries for these devices, heat builds up. If there are combustible materials close by, this can lead to a fire.”

‘Fire won’t wait, plan your escape’

As we mentioned earlier, this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign is “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.”

That means that residents of a home need to plan ahead how each person would get out in case of fire. And, each family should decide ahead of time where they will meet nearby, but not too close to the house.

Both Hoquiam Chief Miller and Aberdeen Interim Chief Golding emphasized that most people have no sense of how fast a fire can spread.

“Fire can grow exponentially in a short period of time, doubling in size every 30 seconds, causing everything in a room to combust in as little as three minutes,” Golding said. “This is due to the rapid rate that materials used today to manufacture furniture and household goods can burn.”

“So, when a smoke alarm goes off, you may only have a couple of minutes to escape,” Golding said.

Miller agreed: “Time is of the essence, please leave quickly. Also, if you have the ability, close doors behind you. This limits the amount of fresh air the fire has and can help slow it down before we get there.”

Smoke alarms save lives

Knowing just how fast a house can go up in flames emphasizes the need to be alerted as soon as possible!

For starters, both men agreed that smoke alarms should be tested every month and batteries replaced frequently.

“If you hear it ‘chirping,’ it’s time to change the battery,” Chief Miller said.

“An easy way to remember when to change your smoke alarm batteries is to do it when you change your clocks twice a year for Daylight Savings Time,” Golding said.

While it seems that most people are beginning to get the message of regularly checking and changing the batteries, the National Fire Protection Association recommends that smoke alarms themselves be replaced 10 years from when they were manufactured. Smoke alarms should have labels on them that show this date.

Yep, even if the batteries are still good when you test them, it’s possible the smoke alarm no longer works!

“The replacement is due to the fact that the alarm sensors wear out over time and become ineffective,” Golding said.

It’s recommended that smoke alarms be installed on every level of your home as well as in every bedroom, hall and stair area.

Free smoke alarm installation

Both Aberdeen and Hoquiam, as well as many other local fire departments, have a program where the fire department will go out to local residences and install smoke alarms for free.

In Aberdeen, contact Mitch Housden, fire service specialist, at (360) 537-3264 for more information. In Hoquiam, citizens should contact the Hoquiam Fire Department at (360) 538-3962.

More coming on fire prevention

We’ve more to share about fire prevention so check our next blog for mo


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