It’s easy to put numbers to the loss — 38 structure fires resulting in $753,250 in property damage in Jacksonville in 2008 — but not to the heartache.
That’s why fire officials plan to spend National Fire Prevention Week this week educating children about how to avoid being burned.
The fire department will be focusing on children, teaching them “that burns hurt and to stay away from anything that could be hot, whether it be a heating device, an iron, stove or cooking equipment,” said Jacksonville Fire Department Capt. Bryan McGee, fire prevention and education officer.
“Most children in the city of Jacksonville will go through some type of fire prevention offering from the fire department before the month is over,” McGee said.
Nearly every week day throughout the month is already booked up with fire drills and presentations at schools, safety exercises using the department’s fire safety house to teach youths the basics of safely exiting a burning building, and tours of the fire department McGee said.
The fire department Monday kicked off fire prevention week with fire drills at the Illinois School for the Deaf. Last week there was a drill at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired “and the fire safety house has already been out twice this month,” McGee said.
Nationwide, more fires start in the kitchen than in any other part of the home. “About 60 percent of those injured in kitchen fires are children,” McGee said.
“Unfortuantely, a child burned at a young age becomes a lifelong victim of surgeries,” he said. “A burned adult forms scar tissue that stays pretty much static. A child, because they are still growing, requires repeated surgeries to deal with the fact that the scar tissue does not grow.
“So it’s important that we try to prevent as much as possible, through education, burns to children,” McGee said.
The fire department, however, limits its education efforts beyond third-graders.
“After the third grade, it’s harder to reach the children with our message,” McGee said.
Last year in Illinois there were more than 5,300 residential fires, resulting in 137 deaths and more than $171 million in property damage, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. About eight in 10 of all fire deaths were caused by home fires.
There were no fire fatalities last year in Jacksonville, but there have been three local fatalies since 2005 related to two of the victims smoking while on home oxygen therapy.
Two of the victims were confined to their beds. The third victim died and his wife injured as they were attempting to escape the fire caused by a man who was staying with the couple as he was smoking while on home oxygen therapy.
“It’s a fairly common theme — oxygen in the home and fires,” McGee said.
Smoking while on oxygen therapy is extremely dangerous because the oxygen lowers the ignition temperature.
“It makes material as common as cloth as volatile as gasoline,” McGee said. “Common cloth won’t burn until it reaches 300 or 400 degrees ignition temperature. In an oxygen-enriched atmosphere it can take as low as 90 to 100 degrees to ignite that same cloth. That’s why we see fire deaths with people who are on home oxygen and smoke at the same time.”
FIRE SAFETY TIPS
The Jacksonville Fire Department reminds people to develop a plan for getting out of their house if there is a fire and then practice the plan. People should check their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are working.
Other suggestions to avoid fires:
• Teach children that hot things hurt.
• Have a 3-foot “kid-free” zone around the stove.
• Keep hot foods and liquids away from tables and counter edges so they cannot be pulled or knocked over.
• Never hold a child in your arms while preparing hot food or drinking a hot beverage.
• Be sure to properly extinguish all smoking materials and candles and turn off unattended sources of heat.
• Be careful when using things that get hot such as curling irons, oven, irons, lamps and heaters.
•Only use heating pads for 15-20 minutes at a time and don’t lie, sit or place anything on the pad.
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