Today’s home fires burn faster than ever. In a typical home fire, occupants of a building may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Knowing how to use that time wisely takes planning and practice.
The Tullahoma Fire Department has once again teamed up with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week for more than 90 years, to promote this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere,” which works to educate the public about basic but essential ways to quickly and safely escape a home fire.
This year, Fire Prevention Week will be observed Oct. 7-13, and was officially proclaimed by Mayor Lane Curlee at the Monday night meeting of the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
NFPA statistics show that the number of U.S. home fires has been steadily declining over the past few decades. However, the death rate per 1,000 home fires that are reported to fire departments was 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980.
“These numbers show that while we’ve made significant progress in teaching people how to prevent fires from happening, there’s still much more work to do in terms of educating the public about how to protect themselves in the event of one,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “This is particularly critical given the increased speed at which today’s home fires grow and spread.”
Carli also noted that although people feel safest in their home, it is also the place people are at greatest risk to fire, with four out of five U.S. fire deaths occurring at home. That overconfidence contributes to a complacency toward home escape planning and practice.
“Working in the fire service for many years, we know that people often make choices in fire situations that jeopardize their safety or even cost them their lives,” said Tullahoma Fire Chief, Richard Shasteen. “We need to do a better job of teaching people about the potentially life-saving difference escape planning and practice can make and motivate them to action.”
This year’s Look. Listen. Learn. campaign highlights three steps people can take to help quickly and safely escape a fire:
• Look for places fire could start.
• Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm.
• Learn two ways out of every room.
While NFPA and the Tullahoma Fire Department are focusing on home fires, these fire safety messages apply to virtually anywhere.
“Situational awareness is a skill people need to use wherever they go,” Shasteen said.
Shasteen challenged everyone gathered inside the board chambers Monday evening to go home and “look around your home” for any potential fire hazards and either correct them individually or contact the fire department for assistance in correcting them.
“We can give you some ways to correct them if you can’t,” he said.
When it comes to the “Listen” portion of the campaign, Shasteen cautioned homeowners to be more vigilant about keeping track of the age of their smoke alarms.
“Just because it makes the noise when you push the test [button] doesn’t mean it’s going to work during a fire,” he said. “They need to be replaced every 10 years. Don’t just test it, but look at the year of manufacture.”
Finally, for the “Learn” aspect of the campaign, Shasteen said being aware of possible exits for emergency evacuations was important, no matter where one lives or vacations.
“No matter where you are, look for available exits. If the alarm system sounds, take it seriously and exit the building immediately,” he said.
“When you’re shopping in Tullahoma, look for two ways out of that building, whatever building you’re in,” he said.
Following the proclamation by Curlee, Shasteen brought out a “special guest” for some brief comments.
Shasteen introduced Jim Griffin, of the National Fire Safety Council, to discuss the partnership the Tullahoma Fire Department has enjoyed with the council.
According to Griffin, he’s been working with Tullahoma since 1988, and in the 30 years that the two entities have enjoyed the partnership, Tullahoma firefighters have been able to teach area children the importance of fire prevention and fire safety through programs, including Fire Pup.
Thanks to the partnership, the department was recently able to receive a brand-new, completely American-made Fire Pup suit, Griffin said.
Additionally, Griffin presented Shasteen and the city a plaque commemorating three decades partnership.
“We want to present you a 30-year award for this program,” Griffin said. “Thank you, Chief – congratulations to you and to the city of Tullahoma for being a very progressive town and understanding the necessity and importance of preventing the fire before it starts.”
Shasteen thanked Griffin for the recognition, saying that although this is Fire Prevention Week, “we practice fire prevention year-round.”
“The men and women at the fire department work very hard to prevent fires, and it’s been very successful,” Shasteen said.
The department fought only 11 total structure fires in 2017, he added, saying that was virtually “unheard of in a town our size.”
The low number of structure fires Shasteen directly attributed to the department’s work in fire prevention.
Homeowners within the city limits can have a free smoke alarm installed by the Tullahoma Fire Department if they need one. Those who need a smoke alarm are encouraged to contact the TFD at 455-0936.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.