Smoke detectors are life-savers 2009.10.17

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

It’s a lifesaver.

The little device shown above has proven its value over and over in house fires across the country.

Its absence, on the other hand, has led to death—right here in Morenci.

Morenci Fire Department members continue to feel frustration in their attempts to emphasize the importance of smoke detectors.

It’s not only the family and friends of fire victims who suffer when a house fire results in fatalities. Firefighters also feel the grief in their inability to save lives.

After a fatal house fire in 2008, the Morenci Firemen’s Association used funding from the Morenci Kiwanis Club to offer 50 free smoke detectors.

“Have we given out some? Yes,” said department member Kim Valentine. “Have we given out as many as we want? No.”

Even the gift of a free smoke detector wasn’t enough.

A year later another fatal fire occurred in the city—one house without detectors, the other with inoperable detectors—and firefighters are ready to act again.

“Since that last fire, a few people have called us,” Valentine said. “After what’s happened, we want to take action. We’re trying to encourage everyone to have at least one. For people who need help, we’ll come in and install them.”

Valentine’s committee is even considering going door to door once a month with the free offer, but it will take some fund-raising and donations to make that work.

Fire safety experts recommend a hard-wired detector system which is built in with new construction, and they push for a detector in every bedroom.

“We’ll do whatever people allow us to do,” Valentine said.

Getting detectors into a house is the first step, but that’s where the efforts mostly end. Some people will take the detector but never install it. Others won’t replace weak batteries.

Firefighters in some communities have been shocked to learn that the smoke detector battery was removed to replace a dead battery in the TV remote.

Valentine heard a statistic that estimated there are more inoperable detectors than working ones.

“It really bothers me,” he said. “It’s the matter of a battery that could save a life—or more than one.”

Morenci fire chief Chad Schisler recommends changing batteries twice a year, with each time change. Put the old one in a flashlight or remote, he said, but give a smoke detector a fresh battery.

STUDENTS—Department member Jeff Ort spoke with elementary school students last week during Fire Prevention Week, emphasizing the need for families to develop exit plans—and to practice them. According to surveys, most families don’t have a rehearsed plan.

Parents often think they’ll have several minutes to gather everyone together and leave the house, but that often isn’t the case.

Families often awaken to heavy smoke, when the first impulse is to jump up and find out the problem.

Ort emphasized the need to stay near the floor to avoid being overcome by smoke. Many lives could be saved simply by crawling to safety rather than walking upright.

This year Valentine spoke with seniors at Morenci Area High School.

“I wanted one more shot before they leave us,” he said.

He and police chief Larry Weeks reviewed general fire safety rules, but put the message into the context of dormitories, fraternity houses and apartments.

A working smoke detector can increase the chance for survival in a fire by two-thirds, Weeks said.

“Take responsibility for your safety,” Weeks said, “rather than expecting someone to save you.”

Firefighters will always do their best, but they could use a little help from citizens.

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