(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- When it comes to educating people about fire safety, fire departments have found it's most effective to teach children, who in turn go home and share what they've learned with their parents.
"The kids will get the parents to do it," said George DeLisle, assistant chief at the Portageville Fire Department. His department, as well as others in the area, are going into schools this month to reinforce good fire safety measures.
"We mainly raise an awareness of what hazards are so they can go home and talk to their parents about it," said Lt. Ken Dicus of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. When visiting classrooms, DPS officers try to prepare students for a fire by telling them to plan possible evacuations in advance, as well as have a pre-planned meeting place.
Children are also advised not to gather their personal belongings or pets, just get themselves out safely. "We say 'we need you all outside to tell us where your dog or cat is,'" DeLisle said.
While what they teach the students is serious, firefighters help them have fun, too. For instance, students get to look at the fire truck and try on a firefighter's uniform. They also practice the revamped stop, drop and roll -- which has become stop, drop, cover your face and roll, said Ashley Hansen, firefighter/EMT for the NBC Fire District, which serves New Hamburg, Benton and Commerce.
"We found when kids would stop, drop and roll they were still getting their face burnt," Hansen said.
Another thing NBC stresses when firefighters go into schools is that children know to call 911 in case of a fire and know their address. Hansen suggested parents keep it printed near the phone.
The Portageville firefighters have a fun way of showing children the importance of knowing their address. "We always tell them they have to know their address to squirt the fire hose," DeLisle said. "And most of them don't know."
While at the schools, some departments teach the staff how to use the extinguishers, too. DeLisle said teachers sometimes don't know where they are and how to use them. That's a common problem for a lot of homeowners, too, so departments will often set up trainings with adults on the proper usage of fire extinguishers.
Another thing the firefighters drill to children is the importance of changing batteries in smoke detectors twice a year -- usually when the times change due to Daylight Savings Time as a reminder.
"It's not uncommon for us to find smoke detectors in houses where batteries have been removed or corroded," Dicus said. He mentioned a fire in Sikeston several years ago where batteries had been removed from the detector and five children were killed.
"That's a very sobering instance," he said.
After they respond to fires, the Portageville department gives those homes a survey and often find people's detectors weren't going off, and the batteries haven't been changed. "If it would have happened at night, they wouldn't have survived," DeLisle said.
It's also a good idea to replace smoke alarms after about 10 years, according to a news release from the University of Missouri Extension's Fire and Rescue Training Institute.
"Over time, smoke alarms lose their sensitivity, and of course, there have been improvements in the newer models," said Dave Hedrick, director.
With the change of seasons, reinforcing fire safety is vital at this time of year.
"We do tend to see more house fires in the winter time," Dicus said.
But there are things residents can do to prevent fires.
"Walk through the house and make sure you don't have bags of newspapers of clothes sitting up next to furnaces and hot water heaters and things like that," Dicus said. "Make sure the area is clear and not cluttered."
Floor vents should be checked before turning on heaters and then frequently -- perhaps every time someone cleans -- to ensure nothing has fallen into them.
He also said to keep furnace filters changed frequently so dust doesn't build up. "It also saves in energy costs," Dicus said.
DeLisle suggested people have a furnace technician look at the furnace to see if everything is in proper working order. It's also a must to keep the lint trap of a dryer cleaned, as dryer fires are one of the biggest causes of fires Portageville responds to.
Unattended stoves and improper candle usage and placement also causes quite a few fires, DeLisle added.
And with Halloween and Christmas approaching, one should always take the necessary precautions when decorating for the season.
"Use common sense -- don't over load your sockets," DeLisle said. If someone purchases a live tree, he recommended they also buy an extinguisher made specially for them.
Dicus agreed. "Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations," he said. "And be sure you have large enough extension cords to carry the load."
> Never touch matches, candles or lighters, Make sure you tell an adult immediately if you see matches or a lighter in a room.
> Don't cook alone.
> Remind your parents to turn pot handles toward the center of the stove.
Never stick anything in an electric socket.
> Never hang anything on a lamp, heater or radiator.
> Always let an adult know if there is any kind of smoke or fire in your house.
> If there is a fire, get out fast.
> Once you are out of the house, call 911 immediately.
> In case of fire, develop an escape plan with your parents. Plan for two possible escape routes out of your house. Practice your escape plan with your parents several times a year.
> Stay low to the floor when escaping a fire, as smoke rises and makes it difficult to see.
Source: National Fire Sprinkler Association