It had been 10 years since the last person died in residential fire in the Martinez-Evans area.
But as firefighters doused the smoldering Spivey home in Martinez last week, three more names were added to the county's list of fire deaths. Emergency officials returned their focus to promoting fire safety.
Fire Fest 2002
WHAT: Fire Fest America 2002
WHEN: Saturday, 10 am-4 p.m.
Where: Doctor's Hospital field behind Kroger in Evans
Cost: Admission is free; food and game tickets may be purchased on site
"(Ten years) is a good record," said Martinez Fire Department Chief Doug Cooper. "We haven't lost very many people in my whole career here with Martinez. I think that our fire prevention program, us going out to the schools, I think that helps a lot. The children are a good place to start. The children get actions out of the adults."
Firefighters and educators are doing double time in schools this week, which is Fire Prevention Week, and this month, which is Fire Safety Month. Also, the Rotary Club of Columbia County's annual Fire Fest - a day of fun and fire-safety education - is Saturday. The events begin at 10 a.m. at the field behind the Evans Kroger on Washington Road and continue until 4 p.m.
The week of fire education follows the deaths of Harry, Linda and Holly Spivey - who were asleep in the early hours of Friday morning when a fire ripped through their Martinez home. They were found dead on the floor of their bedrooms, likely from heat exposure and inhalation of smoke, which contains poisonous gases, said Columbia County Deputy Coroner Vernon Collins.
The home had no working smoke detectors to warn the sleeping family of the blaze.
Those detectors are a first line of defense in surviving a fire, said Cooper. "(People) definitely need smoke detectors so they can be alerted to the fact there is a fire," he said.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 40 percent of residential fires and three-fifths of residential fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms.
By law, all homes must have functioning smoke alarms. Batteries in smoke detectors should be not checked, but changed, every time a clock gets changed for daylight savings time, which is twice a year, Cooper said.
There are two types of detectors - photoelectric and ionizing. Photoelectric detectors use a light bulb; when smoke breaks that beam of light, it goes off. The bulb ages and can easily blow like any other around the house, said Greg Brooks, a Savannah River Site firefighter, state-certified fire safety educator and president of the CSRA Trauma Society.
Ionizing detectors contain a small amount of radioactive material that detects negative and positive charges of smoke. Radioactive material has a half-life that does run out. Brooks recommends replacing the entire unit every 10 years - which can cost as little as $50 per household.
"If you do not have $50 to save your family's life, the fire department may have to respond to another tragedy," Brooks said.
He also recommends cleaning the detector of dust and buildup and checking it regularly. Checking it does not mean simply pressing the test button, which only tests the batteries. Blow out a candle under the detector, let the smoke billow at the detector and a functioning device will send an audible alarm.
A detector that does not function provides home residents a false sense of security, when the alarms have such a huge impact in getting people out of the dangerous situation as soon as possible, Cooper said. They always should be placed on each floor of the home and near the bedrooms.
Once the detector warns of fire, a planned and practiced evacuation plan should get residents out of the home safely and quickly. Practicing the plan in daylight and at night is important, Brooks said. If the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, sleeping residents will be confused and have dulled senses and slower responses, so you have to follow the plan, or a secondary route, by instinct.
"An important thing is you have to have a fire evacuation plan and you have to practice it or you will not be able to do it and get out," Brooks said.
Developing and practicing a home fire-escape plan that everyone understands can keep your family safe.
"If you are well-prepared and have the right equipment and training, you can handle an emergency should it arise," Brooks said.
Each home also should be equipped with fire extinguishers, especially in fire prone areas like the kitchen. They should be easily accessible and clearly marked, Brooks recommends. Because fire extinguishers contain dry chemicals that can settle at the bottom of the can, once a year owners should turn them upside-down and gently hit the bottom with a rubber mallet to make sure the fire retardant stays loose.
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