The importance of fire prevention education

It’s a message that many often hear – check your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries in the device annually. However, this year’s theme for Fire Prevention Week, which runs Oct. 9th-15th is ‘Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years’.

It is a reminder that may perhaps be lesser known, but still just as important.

According to Fire Prevention Canada, hundreds of people die in residential fires in Canada every year.

In many fires that have been extinguished in their early stages, people have been found dead of smoke inhalation without having suffered burns.

“It has been conservatively estimated that many of these lives could have been saved by the installation of properly functioning smoke alarms. Although these devices are no substitute for carefully planned fire prevention measures, they are invaluable to providing an early warning when fire strikes,” officials say.

Smoke is the cause of the majority of fire-related deaths, according to the Fire Prevention Canada site.

Hot flames are actually low on the list of killers during a fire.

“A smouldering fire may go undetected for hours, especially while people are asleep. In addition to deadly carbon monoxide, smoke carries poisons such as hydrogen cyanide and irritants such as formaldehyde and acetic acid. Added to this lethal potion are other toxic substances that come from the burning of synthetic materials commonly found in the home, especially those emitted from plastics and foams. Oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and ammonia are just a few examples. These agents can have a lethal effect before a sleeper is even disturbed; especially when one considers that the fire itself consumes life-sustaining oxygen.”

Normally, air is made-up of about 21% oxygen. When it falls below the 17% level, thinking and coordination become difficult. Below 16%, a person’s behaviour turns irrational, hindering escape efforts.

Breathing becomes impossible when oxygen levels fall below 6%.

Super-heated air and gases rise quickly and produce what is known as a ‘hot’ fire.

Temperatures above 370C are common in a ‘hot’ fire. At such high temperatures, unconsciousness and death can occur within minutes. Bedrooms located in the upper floors of residences are frequently subjected to these conditions in the advanced stages of a fire.

There are of course other aspects to fire safety, including proper use of lighters and matches.

Also according to Fire Prevention Canada, every year hundreds of fires are started by children playing with lighters or matches.

Many of these fires are caused by children under the age of five. Children as young as 18 months have caused fires by operating lighters. Disposable lighters sold by retailers must be child-resistant, but remember, child-resistant does not mean childproof. Store lighters out of sight and out of the reach of children and do not remove the child safety devices from the lighter. Remember to teach children that lighters and matches are not toys.

Meanwhile, City officials say that Fire Prevention Week is an important yearly reminder for fire safety and they aim to get out there and teach kids and remind adults about fire safety.

Officials say that for the most part a homeowner should be able to replace their smoke alarm, but in some cases an electrician may be needed.

Josh Mah, fire prevention officer for the City of Red Deer, added the theme for Fire Prevention this year is an important one.

“The theme this year is part of the fire safety messages that we continually share with the public, that we share with schools. Besides testing your smoke alarm monthly and changing the batteries annually, this is our third message with smoke alarms,” he said. “We are in full support of this theme. It is definitely an educational message and it is definitely relevant especially here in Red Deer where we are coming across smoke alarms that are over 10 years old quite often.”

For more information about Fire Prevention Week, visit www.firepreventionweek.org.

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