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Comment: Fire education pays off

Several weeks ago my family got an e-mail from a good friend lamenting the Toronto Maple Leafs’ sorry playoff run, speculating about our kids’ upcoming house league hockey season and giving us his contact information should we need to reach him due to the fact that his house had been gutted by fire and the family was holed up in a hotel.

December 6, 2007
By Laura King


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Several weeks ago my family got an e-mail from a good friend lamenting the Toronto Maple Leafs’ sorry playoff run, speculating about our kids’ upcoming house league hockey season and giving us his contact information should we need to reach him due to the fact that his house had been gutted by fire and the family was holed up in a hotel. In the news biz, we call that ‘burying the lead’. Thankfully, there were no injuries but the story is a testament to the necessity of public education in schools and communities and the effectiveness of the oft-repeated messages that firefighters spread to tens of thousands of kids each school year.

Our friend’s 10-year-old son – the hockey team’s goalie – had come home from school on a Thursday afternoon in early June, gone into the house and headed straight for the bathroom, which kids tend to do after school! He was to be alone only briefly as his dad was already on his way home from work. Coming out of the bathroom, he heard the smoke detector in the family room beeping and followed the sound. A quick glance toward the stairs where “dancing orange shadows” were visible sent him running out of the house to the neighbour’s to call 9-1-1 – exactly what he had been taught to do through the Oakville Fire Department’s public education programs and by his mom and dad.

That neighbour wasn’t home but this resourceful 10 year old knew better than to return to his house, and went door to door until someone answered. The neighbour – three doors down – who finally answered remained calm when he told her he “thought” his house was on fire, and scooted outside to have a look. By that time, smoke was billowing out of the basement family room window and others had already called 9-1-1.

Firefighters praised the presence of mind of this young NHL wannabe and quietly told the parents how much worse things could have been had he done anything but leave the house. Some kids might have gotten scared and hidden, or tried to make the call from home, lost time, and been trapped.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by a faulty lamp wire and that the family had done all the right things: they had smoke detectors throughout the house and had talked to their child about fire safety – two critical elements in the public education message.

Like many fire departments, the Sooke, British Columbia, department has a wonderful public education division but that wasn’t always the case. Our story on page 42 explains how some ingenuity turned things around and created this award-winning public education unit. And, on page 38, we look at public education programs that work, including realistic “safety houses” and road shows.

Our cover story, on the devastating blaze in Fort St. John, British Columbia, on June 19, looks at the inferno from a firefighter’s perspective as Chief Fred Burrows describes the chaos of this “career” fire.

On a final note, thanks to all the Maritime chiefs who welcomed Fire Fighting in Canada to their conference in Summerside in June and helped us make do when our trade show booth got lost in transit (naturally, it arrived on the final day of the show, just as we were packing up!).


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