Fire Prevention Week starts Sunday and runs until Saturday, Oct. 14. Every year, Fire Prevention Week has a theme. The National Fire Protection Association has set this year’s theme as “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!”

Area fire departments will be out and about this week and during the upcoming weeks visiting schools and senior citizen centers and holding pancake breakfasts to promote fire prevention week and this year’s fire prevention message. Many fire departments will also be holding open houses, which I encourage you to attend.

The theme is very simple: Whenever you go into a place, be it your own home, a store, a restaurant, a sports arena, a night club or even a casino, make sure you know two ways out of the building. Building codes, both commercial and residential, require that you have least 2 ways out from every floor you are on.

Each year fire departments throughout the nation do millions of fire inspections. These inspections are not an infringement on your rights as a citizen, they are done to keep both the owners of buildings and the public who visits them safe. The inspections are also done to ensure firefighters themselves have two ways out of a building to keep them safe also.

Fire safety is not a priority in the United States. Many building and fire codes are compromises between fire officials, contractors and builders, and different associations and building owners themselves. Fire codes can be perceived as a pain and an infringement on property rights.

Yet on Aug. 8, 2012, a building and fire code regulation saved valuable property on Spring Street in Chippewa Falls. From a Herald article on Aug. 8, 2012, by Mark Gunderman after what has become known as the Spring Street Fire:

“Some may joke that it’s a hard thing for an attorney to do, but Dave Raihle Jr. was admitting he was wrong Wednesday morning.

Raihle acquired the building at 17 W. Spring St. a few years ago and extensively remodeled it. He said the city forced him to put up a firewall between his building and the one immediately adjacent at 15 W. Spring St., and to make more extensive roof improvements. That increased his costs by a few thousand, and he was against it.

Wednesday morning he admitted the firewall saved his building, and there’s a good chance it saved the rest of the buildings on the south side of the first block of West Spring Street, too.”

The National Fire Protection Association keeps statistics on the number, severity, dollar loss and fatal fires in the United States each year. I could quote you almost any statistic that you would like. I will level with each of you, no one usually cares about statistics until you become one of them. No one thinks much about fire until they have one.

Side tracking a bit, the slogan for Fire Prevention Week can also apply to other things in our lives. We should always have a Plan B for many things that we do. Things we plan don’t always work out the way we would like them to. Having a backup idea, plan or options is always a good thing. We should always be looking ahead to the next thing on the horizon.

That does not mean we have to dread something, it simply means that if whatever we are doing does not work out, what options and obstacles do we have to overcome and move on? If one way is blocked what is the alternative?

Returning to Fire Prevention Week, a few handy reminders: Make sure your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector have working batteries; change the batteries twice a year when you change the clocks for daylight-saving time. Remember, detector batteries often go dead in the middle of the night just to annoy you.

Be careful with gasoline and propane. Make sure that you have two ways out of your house on every floor. If you have bedrooms in your basement make sure you have escape windows for your family members. Water your Christmas trees, and keep candles away from combustibles.

Get a licensed electrician to do your household wiring, and if you are building a new house, think about putting sprinklers in it. Have a fire-safe year.

John R. Andersen of Lake Hallie is a former state employee who remains active in the fields of fire prevention, government and education.


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