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Focusing on fire safety: Experts urge residents to create, implement fire escape plans
Fires kill around 3,000 people yearly in the United States, a number local fire safety experts say could be reduced with better planning.
Beginning Sunday, the Plano Fire Department is taking part in Fire Prevention Week to help promote fire safety. The annual event will feature open house ceremonies at each of the city's 13 fire stations at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, where fire personnel will be on hand to answer residents' questions and share fire safety tips.
Plano FD Capt. Peggy Harrell said only 33 percent of households nationwide have a fire escape plan, a number she hopes will increase as fire departments across the country observe Fire Prevention Week.
"The goal of this week is having families plan and practice their home escape plans," Harrell said. "When you are sitting around the dinner table it can be a goofy thing to discuss, but it can be a life-saving discussion."
Each member of the household should know how to escape from each room in the house, Harrell said. The plan should also include a Plan B in case fire or smoke is blocking the primary exit path. Two-story houses should also have fire escape ladders, Harrell said, adding that the ladders are easily deployable and can be purchased at many home improvement stores.
Harrell, the department's fire and life safety education coordinator, said in addition to a fire escape plan, residents should change the batteries in their smoke detectors once a year to ensure they are working properly.
Plano Fire Marshal David Kerr said many people believe they know what to do when the are exposed to a fire, but unless they have first-hand experience, they may be making decisions using incorrect information.
"One of the biggest challenges is getting people to unlearn the things they have seen on television," Kerr said, adding that unlike on television, real fires are filled with black smoke resulting in poor visibility. "In fire scenes, the actor wants you to see their face. If you just show a black screen for 10 minutes, nobody would watch that."
Prior to homes being filled with plastic and other synthetic materials, Kerr said fires would take up to 10 minutes to consume a residence. Today, however, that number is down to 3-4 minutes, meaning occupants have very little time to escape. Kerr said it is very important to have working smoke detectors in a residence, but to remember that the 3-4 minutes starts when the fire starts, not when the detector goes off.
"When you hear that, you are already behind the 8-ball since it takes time for the smoke to travel from the fire to the detector," he said. "By the time the detector goes off, the fire has already been burning for a couple of seconds to a minute or two."
With most home fires starting in the kitchen, Kerr said there is one cheap kitchen utensil that can be used to extinguish grease fires; and surprisingly it isn't a fire extinguisher.
"The best thing for someone to have handy when they are cooking is a cookie sheet," he said. "The sheet will fit over the top of any cooking device, so instead of searching for the lid that fits the pan, you can just grab the cookie sheet [to smother the fire]."
Kerr said it is important to avoid reaching over the grease fire to prevent being burned, and to not take the burning skillet or pan to the sink since a spill could occur and the fire could be spread. He also cautioned against using water to extinguish grease fires, saying it will likely splash the burning grease out of the pan.
While a fire extinguisher may not be the best tool for putting out a grease fire, they still have a place in the home. However, literature from the National Fire Protection Association urges caution when using extinguishers.
"A portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives; but portable extinguishers have limitations," a document on the association's website read. "Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the number one priority for residents is to get out safely."