Educating the Public: Smoke Detectors

In the fire service, we tend to take things for granted. Over the past few years, I have learned as firefighters, we constantly stress to the members of the public different safety measures they need to take. It is a fact that we have less fires today then we did 60 years ago. This has been a progressive improvement through new building codes, the development of sprinkler systems in commerical and residential buildings, and through active fire prevention activities. Upon entering residences, I typically find myself looking around for working smoke detectors, and I do this whether I am on-duty, off-duty, or working part-time on the ambulance.

Recently, our Engine responded to a residence to check for presence of carbon monoxide in the home. We arrived to find a young couple and their two children that informed us how they were using a kerosine heater to heat their house and detected a strong smell of fuel after burning it. They were concerned that this may be carbon monoxide, and requested that we check the house. After clearing the house using our CO monitor, there was no carbon monoxide detected. As we stood there listening to the residents explain about recent electrical issues with breakers flipping, lights flickering, and several electric heaters shorting out, it was obvious there was an electrical issue throughout the house. Within a few seconds of glancing around the room, I spotted a carbon monoxide detector without any batteries and a smoke detector mount on the wall.

The residents stressed how relieved they were that we were unable to find a presence of carbon monoxide, but were unaware of the real danger of not having a working smoke detector. As firefighters, have we not educated the public the importance of having a working smoke detector? If you pay attention to any fire safety messages during Fire Prevention Month or when we set our clocks forward/backwards, the common topic is always changing your batteries in your smoke detector.

Our department recently received a grant to assist our ability to be able to provide the public with smoke detectors at no cost. This is a great help when budgets are tight for municipalities, and pay checks are smaller for the working class. That night, we provided the family with working smoke detectors that enabled them to lay their head on the pillow that night knowing they would have a warning device to notify them of smoke in their residence.

Just this week, Chilhowie Fire Department launched Operation Save-A-Life, a campaign to provide education and smoke detectors to their residents at no cost. They are one of only eight departments nationwide that received a grant from Focus on Fire Prevention Foundation in Florida, a non-profit organization that assists departments in the delivery of the supplies needed. They are able to offer ionization, photoelectric, detectors equipped with strobe lighting for the visual-impaired, and detectors with louder sounds for the hearing-impaired residents.

Residents in the Chilhowie Fire Department’s response area are invited to contact them, and firefighters will discuss cooking and heating tips, carbon monoxide warning signs, home escape plans, and other safety issues. Residents interested in a free home safety survey can call the fire department at 646-3131 or email to schedule an appointment.

In Kingsport, this past year we celebrated the milestone of not having a fire-related death in 5 years. This has been made possible by a very active fire prevention department, updated fire codes, and inspections. I believe that we can make a difference by educating the residents in each of our response areas about the importance of smoke and CO detectors.

What type of program does your department offer to it’s residents? Do you complete these home safety surveys as discussed above? Have you seen the positive results from implimenting a similar program?

Stay safe brothers and sisters,