By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
It's no coincidence fire prevention week comes on the eve of the holiday season. Whether it's Halloween lights, Thanksgiving Turkeys, space heaters or Christmas trees, a cold winter can become a hot blaze in a few minutes.
Home fires typically increase during the winter, Killeen Fire Marshal James Chism said.
The National Fire Prevention Association calculates that 44 percent of all home heating fires happen between December and February.
The prevalence of home fires in the winter is why this week and the month of October are designated for fire prevention.
This year's national theme for the Fire Prevention Month is preventing home fires.
The Killeen and Harker Heights Fire Departments will target area children during October to make sure children understand that dangerous consequences can arise from fire curiosity.
The departments will increase their visits to Killeen ISD schools during this week to educate children about fire prevention. They will tell children about home fire safety and techniques such as stop, drop and roll.
"It's kind of assumed children will play with fire when they're growing up," Chism said. "We're just showing and telling them the possible consequences, to equate a small match being lit with a house burning down."
Chism said Halloween and Thanksgiving are lesser concerns compared to cold weather mixed with Christmas lights and trees.
Each year when the area receives the first cold night, central heaters get used for the first time in 10 months and space heaters gets dragged from closets and into bedrooms.
During that night, fire departments become inundated with calls from people who placed space heaters near objects that caught fire or did not have their heaters checked.
After the heaters roll out, comes a brightly-lit Christmas tree
and a new set of potential dangers.
"For Christmas, the number one danger is that real Christmas tree, if it gets dried out. In less than 30 seconds, it can be engulfed in flames if you don't keep that tree watered. It's definitely better to have an artificial tree."
Also, an overloaded electrical circuit can lead to a ruined holiday.
"If it says three strands together, only hook three strands, not the 10 strands you have," Chism said.
In case of a fire, homes need to have smoke detectors and escape plans.
Stacey Alley, Harker Heights fire prevention officer, said most homeowners do not realize or forget that after 10 years smoke detectors become less effective and need to be replaced.
Also, homeowners should regularly check the batteries in smoke detectors to make sure they work.
Bell County Fire Marshal Steve Casey said the winter means residents need to be educated and be safe to keep a fire from ruining the holidays.
Contact Victor O'Brien at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468.
Need a free fire alarm installed?
Bell County agencies will accept free fire alarm installation applications from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 11 at local Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe's stores.
If accepted, a local fire official will visit the home and install a fire alarm.
Smoke detectors save lives
Make sure a smoke detector is installed in every room in your house where people sleep.
There should also be at least one smoke alarm in the hallway of each floor of your home.
If your home doesn't have enough, they can be purchased at area home improvement or hardware stores and are simple to install.
Check your smoke detectors every month to make sure they are working. It only takes a few seconds and could save your life.
Be sure to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors at least once a year. Or better yet, do it twice a year when you change the clocks at the beginning and end of daylight savings time.
Winter heating tips
Get your heating system checked before it has to be used.
Replace the filters.
Keep space heaters away from anything that can catch fire.
Have chimneys cleaned and serviced to remove chemical buildup.
Plug space heaters into sockets directly, without an extension cord.
Turn off space heaters when no one is in the room.
Never use your oven to heat your home.
Portable and stationary space heaters accounted for 32 percent of home heating fires and 73 percent of home heating fire deaths in 2005, according to the National Fire Prevention Association.
Source: Killeen Fire Marshal's Office
Christmas tree and lighting tips
Buy an artificial tree.
Keep an actual tree watered.
Keep trees away from heat sources such as candles and fireplaces.
Only connect a few strands of light together.
Follow manufacturer's recommendations.
Source: Killeen Fire Marshal's Office
Get a home inspection
The Killeen Fire Marshal's Office provides home and business inspections. Contact the Killeen Fire Marshal at (254) 501-3582.
In Harker Heights, contact Fire Prevention Officer Stacey Alley with the Harker Heights Fire Marshal's Office at (254) 699-2688.
In Copperas Cove, contact the Fire Marshal's Office at (254) 547-2514.
Every year people using barbecue grills start hundreds of fires.
The International Fire Code prohibits grilling on patios and balconies in multi-family complexes. Barbecue in designated areas only.
In single-family residences, move the barbecue grill out from under patio covers.
If using charcoal grills, do not use gasoline as a starter fuel; use charcoal light fuel only. Do not add more fuel after the coals have already been lit.
Keep children away from the grill so they don't accidentally knock it over or burn themselves.
Provide a minimum 2A10BC multi-purpose fire extinguisher for your kitchen. Keep the extinguisher in a visible, accessible area. Read the instructions provided on the extinguisher on proper and safe use.
Source: Cove Fire Marshal's Office
Home Fire Safety Checklist
Score a fire safety home run – do a home fire safety inspection!
Striking out fire in your home requires a little homework. Take about 20 minutes to inspect your home. As you go from room to room, answer the questions below. For each question you answer "yes" to, give yourself a point. When you're finished, add up the points to find out your score. Kids, ask a grown-up to help you complete this checklist!
First Base – Cooking Safety
__ Yes __ No Does a grown-up always stay in the kitchen when food is cooking on the stove?
__ Yes __ No Are stove tops and counters clean and uncluttered?
__ Yes __ No Are there pot holders within easy reach of the stove?
__ Yes __ No Are pot handles turned inward so they can't be bumped?
__ Yes __ No Are curtains and other things that can burn well away from the stove?
__ Yes __ No Is there a "kid-free" zone of three feet (one metre) around the stove when grown-ups are cooking?
Second Base – Heating Safety
__ Yes __ No Are portable space heaters always turned off when adults leave the room or go to sleep?
__ Yes __ No If space heaters are used in your home, are they at least three feet away from anything else that can burn, including people, furniture and pets?
__ Yes __ No Does your fireplace have a sturdy screen to catch sparks?
__ Yes __ No Has your chimney been inspected and cleaned during the past year?
__ Yes __ No Has your furnace been serviced by a professional in the past year?
__ Yes __ No Are propane tanks and other fuels stored outside your home?
Third Base – Electrical Safety
__ Yes __ No Are extension cords used safely? (Are they not under carpets or across doorways?)
__ Yes __ No Are electrical cords in good condition, without cracks or frayed areas? (A grown-up should unplug lamps and appliances before inspecting the cords.)
__ Yes __ No Are kitchen appliances ? such as the coffee-maker, toaster oven, and microwave ? plugged into separate receptacle outlets?
Home Plate – Smoke Alarms/Home Fire Escape
__ Yes __ No Does your home have smoke alarms on every level, including the
basement, and outside each sleeping area?
__ Yes __ No Are the batteries working in all your smoke alarms? (A grown-up should help by pushing the test button to find out.)
__ Yes __ No Are all the exits in your home clear of furniture, toys, and clutter?
__ Yes __ No Does your family have a home fire escape plan that includes two exits, usually a door and a window, from each room?
__ Yes __ No Has your family picked a safe place to meet outside after you exit your home?
__ Yes __ No Have you and your family practiced a home fire drill within the last six months? (Why not do one tonight?)
__ Yes __ No Do you know the fire department's emergency phone number (which should be called from a neighbor's or nearby phone once you get outside)?
What's Your Fire Safety Batting Average?
If you answered "yes" to all of the checklist questions above, congratulations! You scored a fire safety home run!
If you answered "yes" to 15 to 20 questions, you've made it to third base. Just make a few adjustments, and you'll easily hit a fire safety home run.
If you answered "yes" to 10 to 14 questions, you've hit a double. You're going in the right direction, but you've got some work to do before you get to home plate.
If you answered "yes" to fewer than 10 questions, you've reached first base, but you need to make many changes around your home in order to reach home plate.
For all questions to which you answered "no," make sure your family takes the steps needed to make them a "yes" so you can all score a fire safety home run!