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Fire safety important as ever

| Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004

MONESSEN - A national campaign in the mid-1980s to encourage homeowners to install smoke alarms was successful, Municipal Fire Chief Tim Billick said.

Most homeowners installed smoke alarms and fatal fires declined as a result.

But 20 years later, many of the alarms have become too old to be effective. In other homes, dead batteries have rendered alarms useless.

Thus as National Fire Prevention Safety Week winds down, Billick is reminding homeowners that it is vital to again commit to install - and maintain - fire alarms in their homes. This is the perfect time, Billick said, to test fire alarms.

When inspecting fire alarms, homeowners should follow the following checklist:

  • Do you have a working smoke alarm on every level of your home?

  • Is an alarm in or outside every place people sleep?

  • Do you test your smoke alarms once a month?

  • Do you know the sound of your alarms and are they loud enough to wake you?

    To ensure safety, the answer to each questions should be "yes."

    In Austin, Texas, a national "Put a Finger on It" fire safety education campaign was launched after fatal fires increased, Billick noted.

    A Fire Fatality Task Force in Austin studied each fatal fire in the city and found a lack of smoke alarms in the homes in which fatal blazes occurred.

    The Austin Fire Department created Freddy the Finger, a cartoon fire alarm that became the centerpiece of an education program designed to remind homeowners to test their fire alarms monthly.

    The trend of increased fatal fires has been reduced as a result of the educational program, Billick said. It's a message that area residents can take to heart, he said.

    "We want to protect people," Billick said. "Everyone can have a fire alarm, but unless they work, they're useless pieces of plastic. It drives us crazy to walk into a house fire and see smoke alarms with no batteries in them."

    New state uniform construction codes require smoke alarms in all bedrooms, Billick said.

    Billick said Monessen has been lucky because - unlike Austin - it has not experienced any fatal fires.

    "We're trying to warn people ahead of time so it won't happen here," Billick said.

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