Chatham Emergency Services Update

By Carey Ruppert - ruppertc@bellsouth.net
Chief, Southside Division

With all the recent attention being paid to the threat of the coronavirus, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless to protect yourself and your loved ones. Unfortunately, this focus on fighting such a looming threat can lead to tunnel vision and cause us to be less vigilant in other areas of personal and property protection. One area that we shouldn’t lose focus on is the ongoing importance of fire prevention. Viruses come, and viruses go, but the threat to life and property from fire always will be present.

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) records and reports on fire incidents across the country. Their records show that, on average, 65 people die each week due to a fire. This means that in an average year, more than 3,000 people in the United States die in fires, most of which were residential. These statistics don’t even address the number of people injured and the billions of dollars of property lost or damaged in these fires. And the most staggering statistic of all is that many of these fires were preventable.

So, how do these residential fires start? Cooking, at 52%, is the leading cause of residential fires, followed by heating at 9%. The remaining top 5 causes are smoking, electrical, and open flames, such as candles. What can you do? In addition to having a working smoke detector on every level of your home, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Most cooking fires occur after residents put something on the stovetop and then become distracted and forget about it. If you must leave the kitchen or answer your phone, take the pan off the heat and turn the burner off.
  • If you are using a space heater, make sure it has three feet clearance in all directions, and keep it away from draperies, furniture, people, and pets.
  • Have your central heating inspected annually.
  • Don’t smoke in bed, and keep track of your smoldering cigarette butts. Douse butts with water before discarding.
  • Faulty or deteriorating electrical cords cause most residential electrical fires. Check all electrical cords, and replace any that are damaged. Don’t overload electrical circuits, especially the surge protecting power cords under and behind your desk and entertainment centers.
  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) in all electrical receptacles in your kitchen, bathrooms, and other wet areas.
  • If you use candles, use sturdy holders and keep them at least three feet from anything flammable.

On a practical basis, if all these preventive measures fail, awareness is the best way to improve your odds in case of a fire. In particular, in the event of a fire, make sure you are alerted in a timely manner by a working smoke detector. It also is important to have a fire escape plan in place and that every family member is familiar with two ways out of each room. Your family should practice that plan twice a year.

Hopefully, devoting a few minutes to these preventive measures will enhance the safety and security of your home and family.

And remember, wash your hands with soap and water!