Fort McCoy News Oct. 14, 2016

Fire prevention: Take actions to reduce risks

BY CHRIS FRAZIER
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center

A houseful of vintage furnishings may be a popular decorating trend with many of today's homeowners. When it comes to smoke alarms, however, retro is a no-no.

If a home's smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, it's time to purchase new ones, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). To educate the public about the importance of replacing older smoke alarms, the NFPA has dedicated its 2016 Fire Prevention Week campaign — which runs Oct. 9-15 — to the topic.

"Don't Wait — Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years" is the organization's third consecutive smoke alarm-related campaign theme.

Fire safety

Susan McKelvey, communications manager for the NFPA, said survey data revealed members of the public have many misconceptions and a lack of awareness about smoke alarms, which could put them at increased risk in the event of a home fire.

"As a result, we decided to focus on smoke alarms for three years, targeting areas where people need to be better educated," McKelvey said. "We know that only a small percentage of people know how old their smoke alarms are or how often they need to be replaced."

The 2016 campaign focuses on three key messages:

• Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years.

• Make sure to know how old all the smoke alarms are in a home.

• To find out how old a smoke alarm is, look at the date of manufacture on the back of the alarm. It should be replaced 10 years from that date.

McKelvey said working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. While most U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, NFPA research shows that three out of every five home-fire deaths result from fires in homes with either no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

Smoke alarms can be especially critical during the winter months, when many Americans use supplemental heating devices to keep themselves and their loved ones warm. McKelvey said these devices should be used with caution, however, as they are the second-leading cause of home fires in the United States after cooking equipment.

More specifically, space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for an annual average of two of every five home-heating fires and four out of six home-heating fire deaths between 2009 and 2013. During that same time frame, there was an annual average of 22,640 space-heater fires, 400 civilian deaths, 1,120 injuries, and $538 million in direct property damage.

"You should always make sure all your heating systems are in good working order before the start of the heating season," McKelvey said. "For supplemental heating devices like space heaters, also check to make sure they're tested by an independent testing laboratory."

McKelvey offered two simple steps for space heater users that can greatly reduce the risk of fire. First, give space heaters space. Keep anything that can burn — including people and pets — at least 3 feet away. Second, make sure to turn off space heaters whenever leaving the room or going to sleep.

Likewise, McKelvey provided the following tips to ensure the public is adequately protected by smoke alarms:

• Install smoke alarms in every bedroom; outside each sleeping area; and on every level of the home, including the basement.

• Test smoke alarms monthly to ensure they're working properly.

• When the smoke alarm "chirps," it's time to change the batteries.

• Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.

"Smoke alarms can make a life-saving difference in a fire, giving people the minutes needed to escape safely," McKelvey said.

"However, smoke alarms must be working in order to protect people."

For more information on smoke alarms, space-heater safety, and Fire Prevention Week, visit the NFPA at www.nfpa.org. Additional seasonal safety information is available at https://safety.army.mil.

For more information about fire safety and prevention at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-4077.