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Sunday, October 12, 2014

fire safety - Mike Fraser

Two weeks ago my good friends' house burned down in New York due to a faulty appliance (dryer vent). In the immediate days after her phone call to me, I was paranoid around my own house, being a mother of two children, who does laundry multiple times a day, I was panicked this could happen to us. It really can happen to anyone. I wanted more ideas, help and suggestions in keeping my own family safe. I figured other moms are in the same boat as me, so I have sought out firefighters in our area. I am grateful to you moms in the Mommy Stories Facebook group who referred me to these amazing firefighters. We are lucky they took the time to answer these questions. I hope that this helps you all. I know I have learned a lot just by reading this first post!

Thank you so much, Mike Fraser, for answering these questions in detail, with such important advice. I know I personally intend to make some changes today after reading your responses. 

As parents, we have a great responsibility in teaching our children all kinds of things about being safe and healthy. Fire prevention is just one more thing we need to make sure we teach our little ones. If there is a positive that comes out of my friend's tragedy, I want it to be that every mom I know takes fire prevention more seriously and that it's in the forefront of their minds. 


Images from York County Fire Prevention Facebook

1. How long have you been working in the fire prevention support field? Where do you work?
I have been in the fire service in one capacity or another for a little over 18 years.  My career job for the last 8.5 years is with Waterboro Fire-EMS where I am the Municipal Fire Marshal.  I work per-diem/volunteer for the Alfred Fire Department as Asst. Fire Chief and have been there 9.5 years.  I have also been a board member of the York County Juvenile Fire Safety Intervention Collaborative (ycjfsic) for about 8 years.  

With the fire departments I do fire prevention through education and code enforcement.  I also am responsible for Fire investigation which helps with prevention as I learn what common items are problematic.  YCJFSIC comes into play when we have a minor who has been caught playing with fire or explosives, setting fires, or has what is perceived by family to be an unhealthy fascination with fire.  

Attached is our Facebook page link where you will see our detailed mission statement on how we help children who play with and set fires.      


2. What are some of the most important things you think all home-owners need to consider when it comes to fire prevention?

  • #1-smoke detectors save lives!  Carbon monoxide detectors too.  I cannot stress this one enough!!!!
  • Maintain proper clearance to combustibles for heating appliances.  
  • Properly maintain your appliances.  That includes heating appliances and vents and chimneys.
  • Do not overload electrical circuits.
  • Avoid using cheap 2 wire extension cords.  We call them zip cords.  They cost about $2 at Walmart and look like a lamp cord.  They cause fires!

3. What is something you think all parents of young children need to talk to their kids about when it comes to fire safety?
There are so many things. Fire is a tool for only adults to use, have an emergency exit plan with a meeting place, once out stay out, etc.  

Talk to them often, talk to them early.  Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.  Just tonight my 4 year old scolded me for putting something on top of the range (it was a cookie sheet).  Lead by example, keep matches and lighters out of their reach, and use normal every day events as lessons.  They will get it!

4. How should parents talk to their children about fire safety or what to do in case of an emergency (where to meet up, what to do when fire alarms go off, etc.)? At what age do you think kids should be talked to about this?
Discuss it early and regularly until they get it.  What the smoke detector is and how it works, how to get outside, where to go and to stay there until an adult says it's okay to go back in no matter what!  I teach kids that even if a person is still inside they have to stay out, because they have the most important job of telling the firefighters who is inside and where they might be.  I tell them they are helping rescue that person or pet by staying outside.  I started with my kids around  1.5-2 years old.  

5. Any suggestions for those kids who sleep through anything, including loud fire alarms? 
There are smoke detectors on the market that you can record a message with your voice with a message.  If your kids will wake up to your voice but not a typical smoke detector signal or  alarm clock type noise these are a great option.  There are also detectors and alarms for hearing impaired.

6. Any suggestions on helping kids realize that smoke alarms are not scary, that they are there to help us and to get out of the house?
Do fire drills at home.  Do them regularly to make them familiar with the noise and what it means.  Do them regularly to make getting out to the meeting place safely second nature.  All kids know about electronics these days.  

I teach kids that smoke detectors are electronic noses.  They have 2 jobs: to sniff the air for smoke, and to make a loud noise to let us know if they smell smoke.  That seems to work well.  

7. What type of maintenance can families do in their homes to prevent fires? 
Maintain your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  Maintain proper clearance from heat sources to combustibles.  Clean your dryer and vent.  Maintain all heat producing appliances per manufacturers recommendations.  Clean your chimney at least annually, more if necessary due to your heating appliance's recommendations.  

In snow states keep the snow cleared away from walk ways, paths, and exits including windows.  Some of these items in this question and others don't prevent fires, but give you a fighting chance of surviving if one happens.  


8. What are your recommendations about using washing machines and dryers (on during the night while you're sleeping? clean the vent how often? leave it running while you leave the house or not? why?)

I'm a bit strict on washers and dryers.  They are run when we are home and awake.  I have seen floods, fires, etc from unattended appliances.  

I personally had a dryer that the blower and drum stopped but the heating element stuck on and a flooded basement from a bad washer drain.  Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance.  Otherwise, clean the lint trap each load and I tear my dryer and vent apart twice a year.  If you notice your clothes aren't drying well even though the trap is clean the vent is likely getting blocked.  

9. Any recommendations about other appliances in the house - unplug toasters? only run dishwasher when someone is home? What about crockpots? etc.
I look for the underwriters laboratory UL tag on items before I purchase them.  UL essentially tests items to verify they work as described by the manufacturer.  I personally have never seen a crock pot pose an issue, but at home I make sure there are no combustibles close by.  I typically don't unplug unless going away.  Again, manufacturer's recommendations, especially if it's UL listed.  

10. What do you find is one of the more common causes to house fires? 
Common preventable causes of house fires I have seen....  Combustibles too close to heating appliances is huge.  Improperly disposed smoking materials.  Improper use of extension cords/zip cords, overloaded electrical circuits.  Use of fireworks too close to structures.  

11. What do you recommend for fire safety boxes, safes, etc. for families to keep important items? Any special brands or ideas on this?
If you have documents that really need to be preserved make copies and store originals in safety deposit box In a location with fire detection and sprinkler systems.  I have never seen documents survive a worst case scenario fully involved house fire in any safe.  

12. For those who go through a fire situation, what do you think are some of the best things others can do to support them during that difficult time?
Provide a place to sleep and call home for a while.  Help them focus on tasks that need to be done.  Call the insurance company no matter what time of day or night it is, most have 24 hour hotlines.  I try to get property owners to call while we are still working on putting it out.  Don't touch a thing in the house until the F.D, investigators, and insurance company says it's okay to.  Most of all, just be there for them.  


13. What are some things you teach young children about fire safety? Are there certain things you say, books parents could read, etc. that help them learn about preventing fires or what to do during fires? 

Same as in previous questions, start early, be consistent, smoke detectors and firefighters aren't scary, get out and stay out, know your meeting place.  I teach stop, drop, cover (your face), and roll.  Don't play with fire.  If you find matches or a lighter get an adult.  For emergency call 911.   

14. Anything else you want to add? 
I can't tell you how many times I have been working with a family for a juvenile set fire and heard the parents say " I don't know where they got the match or lighter".  I finally told a little guy one day who had set the woods on fire to go find all the matches and lighters he knew about.  He came back with several the parents didn't know about, or thought he couldn't get to.  

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