Temple Times Online Edition
    OCTOBER 14, 2004
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Use smoke detectors, practice fire safety and get out alive

Each year, the arrival of October brings to mind pumpkins, ghouls, fall festivals and the celebration of Halloween. Mixed in with all the fun is the observance of Fire Prevention Week. This event was first introduced in 1921, when the Fire Marshals Association of North America decided to observe the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.

Although the legend of the Great Chicago Fire blames Mrs. O’Leary’s cow for kicking over a lamp, the original cause of the fire has never been determined. Theories concerning the cause range from boys smoking in the O’Learys’ barn to a meteor shower that may have started several fires that day in the area. Regardless of the cause, 300 lives were lost, more than 17,000 structures were destroyed and 100,000 people were left homeless.

Today, fires in the United States are responsible for taking the lives of approximately 4,000 civilians and 100 firefighters each year. In addition, fires annually inflict 30,000 injuries. The majority (80 percent) of the civilian deaths and injuries are due to residential fires. Cooking is the leading cause of residential and college campus fires, while smoking is the primary cause of fire-related deaths. Alcohol also plays a major factor, contributing to 40 percent of all fatalities. Children under the age of 10 and the elderly are the most vulnerable to fire deaths.

Nationwide, approximately 70 percent of home fire deaths result from fires in structures without smoke alarms or those that do not work properly (no batteries). In 2002, 32 lives were lost in 26 Philadelphia residential fires; 15 of these homes were not equipped with smoke detectors.

Over the past decade, Philadelphia has drastically cut the number of residential fires and fire-related fatalities through its Fire Prevention Education Unit and the public’s use of smoke alarms. Smoke alarms are the great safety success story of the 20th century — but only when they’re working properly. This year’s Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 3–9) theme was “Test Your Smoke Alarms.”

Smoke detectors should be checked once a month. Batteries should be replaced at least once a year, or when the detector’s weak battery alarm sounds. Units should be kept dust-free by periodically dusting and/or vacuuming. Homes should have smoke detectors installed on every level and in hallways leading to bedrooms. As an extra precaution, one should also be installed in each bedroom.

It is equally important for people to know what to do when the alarm sounds either at home or at work. Have a primary escape route as well as at least one backup route that is remote from the primary. Feel doors before opening them. If they feel hot, try another means of escape. Once outside, stay clear of the building and do not re-enter until authorized by fire professionals.

For information concerning workplace safety, contact the Workers’ Compensation Office at
215-204-3328 or workcomp@temple.edu.

- By Tom Johnston