By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN In 2012, one home structure fire was reported every 85 seconds in the US, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
In 2010, US fire departments responded to 369,500 home structure fires. These fires caused 13,350 civilian injuries, 2,640 civilian deaths, and $6.9 billion in direct damage.
While most fatal fires kill one or two people, 19 home fires in 2010 killed five or more people, resulting in 101 deaths.
The reality is that when fire strikes, a home could be engulfed in smoke and flames in just a few minutes.
That’s why having two ways out is such a key part of a fire safety plan, and the Cokato and Dassel fire departments are teaming up with NFPA to spread the word to “Have 2 Ways Out!”
The campaign focuses on the importance of fire escape planning and practice.
It is important to have a home fire escape plan that prepares your family to think fast and get out quickly when the smoke alarm sounds. What if your first escape route is blocked by smoke or flames?
Throughout the week, students at both Cokato and Dassel elementary schools will be learning what they can do to prevent fires from happening in their homes, what firefighters look like when dressed in their gear, and how to plan two good escape routes in case of a fire.
Students in kindergarten through second grade at both elementaries will get to tour the fire barns in their respective towns.
Both schools will also be receiving a visit from local firefighters, who will teach them how to prevent fires in their home.
The Dassel Fire Department, also in conjunction with Fire Prevention Week, will have its annual pork chop dinner Friday, Oct. 12 from 5 to 8 p.m.
The Cokato Fire Department also sent an October through September calendar to area residents to remind them each month of tips for preventing and surviving fires.
Tips for route planning
This year’s fire prevention campaign focuses on making sure each family plans and practices two escape routes.
Only one-third of Americans have both planned and practiced a fire escape plan, according to NFPA.
Almost three-quarters of Americans do have an escape plan; however, less than half actually practiced it.
Many Americans estimate they have at least six minutes before a fire in their home becomes life-threatening.
However, the time available is often less, and only 8 percent said their first thought on hearing a smoke alarm would be to get out.
Nearly all deaths in home fires can be prevented by taking a few simple precautions, like having working smoke alarms and a home fire escape plan, keeping things that can burn away from the stove, and always turning off space heaters before going to bed, according to the NFPA.
While preventing home fires is always a number-one priority, it is not always possible, according to the NFPA.
People need to provide the best protection to keep their homes and families safe in the event of a fire, which can be achieved by developing an escape plan that is practiced regularly and equipping homes with life-saving technologies like smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers.
If there is a fire in the home, the following tips will help keep families safe:
• Pull together everyone in the household and make a plan, walking through the home and inspecting all possible ways out.
Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of the home and marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors.
• Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home (including the basement).
• Interconnect all smoke alarms in the home so when one sounds, they all sound.
• Test smoke alarms at least monthly, and replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old, or sooner if not responding when tested.
• Make sure everyone in the home knows how to respond if the smoke alarm sounds.
• If building or remodeling, consider installing home fire sprinklers.
History of Fire Prevention Week
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire that began Oct. 8, 1871, and lasted two days, doing most of its damage on the second day. The fire killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres.
Although the Great Chicago Fire was the most well-known blaze that day, it was not the biggest. That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in US history.
The Peshtigo Fire, which also started Oct. 8, 1871, roared through northeastern Wisconsin and through 16 towns, killed 1,152 people, and scorched 1.2 million acres before it came to an end.
Historical accounts of the Peshtigo Fire say the blaze was started when railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire.
Both the Great Chicago Fire and the Peshtigo Fire produced countless tales of heroism and bravery by those who survived. The fires also changed the way firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.
On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America (today known as International Fire Marshals Association) decided that the anniversary should be observed in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.
Over the years, the anniversary became more official. In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention proclamation. Since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed Sunday through Saturday the week in which Oct. 9 falls.