Fire deaths show need for education

Monday, February 12, 2007

The death of two young children Tuesday is another painful reminder that smoke detectors can save lives, fire officials say.

The children were killed inside their baby sitter's burning mobile home in Steele, Mo., the second fatal residential fire in that town in the last seven months.

In August 2006, five children, ranging in ages 1 through 8, died, and three adults were injured when fire destroyed a two-story house.

In both instances, fire investigators said there were smoke detectors inside the homes.

The latest incident raised the state death toll from fires to 20 since Jan. 1, according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety. That number is higher than fire fatalities for the same period in 2006 and 2005 combined, which were 7 and 9, respectively.

Of the 20 fatal fires so far this year, nine deaths occurred in seven fires where no smoke detectors were present, said Randy Cole, Missouri fire marshal, and four other deaths occurred in three fires where it could not be determined if detectors were present due to the extent of the fire damage.

Pemiscot County was the worst hit with four fatalities this year, he said.

"It is a proven fact that properly operating smoke detectors save lives," Cole said. "Such tragedies can be prevented by simply testing and maintaining smoke alarms and practicing a fire escape plan."

According to the U.S. Fire Association, smoke alarms are less likely to be present or operating in manufactured homes, fire death rates per 100 manufactured home fires are higher as compared to other home fires and cooking is the leading cause of fires in manufactured homes.

The USFA recommends manufactured homes have a minimum of two smoke alarms installed in the home and installing both fast-burning and slow, smoldering detectors.

"Since Jan. 25, that we know of, 30 children have died in fires in the country," she said.

Cape Girardeau fire chief Rick Ennis said he would like to see more residences with sprinkler systems.

He said there has never been a multiple fire death in a structure with a sprinkler system, based on statistics from the National Fire Protection Association.

"It's not that expensive, really," he said. "Sprinkler systems can be installed in a home for about the same cost of hardwood floors."

Sprinkler systems, just like smoke detectors, aren't mandatory in residential buildings, he said. It is up to builders to install them in new construction or homeowners to install them in existing residences.

"Our culture accepts fire death as a part of life," he said. "We see it and move on and wait for the next one. It makes you frustrated and angry that the technology is out there and we're not doing a good job in telling people."

In an effort to get out the word that injuries and deaths from fires can be prevented, the USFA, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, began a publicity program that goes into effect after every fire.

"We started the Quick Response program to get information out to local media immediately after a fire, because that's when people will listen to you," said USFA spokeswoman Kathy Gerstner.

After a fire, a media blitz will be initiated informing people how to prevent a particular fire themselves.

If smoke detectors weren't found in a house where a fire occurred, the message is the importance of installing and maintaining them; if space heaters were to blame, caution is advised in their use, she said.

The agency tracks fires and, if a cause is known, fact sheets are distributed to area fire departments so they can focus on informing their communities, she said.

carel@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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