During Martinez Fire Department Battalion Chief Gary Thigpen's presentation, he turns off the lights and tells his audience to get out of the building in the dark.
Most can't because they are unfamiliar with the building. Audience members are as mentally hazy as a resident awakened from a dead sleep at 3 a.m. by the ear-piercing sound of a smoke detector.
That's the importance of not only having an evacuation plan in case of fire, but practicing it, Thigpen said.
"Fire multiplies in a house," he said. "It can double in seconds. Even with a smoke detector, there is not a lot of time to escape. The evacuation plan saves lives only when it is practiced."
In his presentation, Thigpen discusses fire safety room by room along with many other fire and safety hazards outside the home including avoiding explosions from static electricity at a gas pump. He suggests simply touching a metal part of the vehicle before touching the gas pump handle, and not getting back into the vehicle while the gas dispenses, he said, because it builds up more static electricity, which is worse during the winter.
Thigpen recommends a UL-approved smoke detector, which can be found at any home improvement store. Some companies use scare tactics to get customers to spend more than $1,000 on a smoke detector system, which is unnecessary, he said.
For the deaf, hearing impaired or people who simply sleep deeply, some smoke detectors have flashing lights or can be wired into the home's lighting system, so all the lights flash when the detector activates, Martinez Fire Department Lt. Todd Caron said.
The fire department responds to more fire calls in winter months because of the use of space heaters and home furnaces and the existence of carbon monoxide, which is tasteless, colorless and odorless.
"During the winter, carbon monoxide is a big deal," Thigpen said. "We should do like the Germans, they open up their windows every day to let the bad air out and the good air in. I find that people do not know a lot about carbon monoxide detectors and where to put them."
Thigpen hopes to speak to many more adult groups throughout town about all kinds of fire safety topics. The fire department spends a lot of time educating children through schools, but the parents are the ones that buy and check the detectors, hang the Christmas lights and clean out the clothes dryer lint trap.
"Kids are smart as a whip and they listen," Thigpen said. "They tell their parents, but a lot of times nothing gets done because (the parents) are tired or busy."
Thigpen will give a presentation to any group including homeowners, neighborhood associations, parent-teacher associations, civic groups and church groups.
"I just want to go talk to educate families," he said. "Everybody will get something out of it. I cover things, one room to another. It will be the most valuable information you get all year."
Thigpen also shows off a new piece of technology in the presentation. He gets a volunteer to chose some people in the audience to do specific things after the lights have been turned out. With the help of a thermal imaging camera, Thigpen pinpoints who is doing what in the room and is able to locate hiding people in the dark.
The department recently acquired two of these cameras, which cost about $10,000 for the pair. The camera detects emitted heat such as that from a human body, overloaded circuits and, of course, fire. It can be instrumental in locating trapped people within a building, detecting where the fire is inside the building or finding missing children in wooded areas.
"It can be pitch black and full of smoke and with the thermal imaging camera, we can see plain as day," Thigpen said. "Clearing a house would traditionally take about 10 minutes. But with the camera, we can scan a room in a few seconds."
Thigpen hopes to raise enough money to put a camera on each of the department's six fire trucks. Donations are being accepted.
For more information on having Thigpen give a presentation or to make a donation, call fire department headquarters at (706) 863-7745.
HOLIDAY FIRE SAFETY TIPS:
Unplug Christmas tree lights and decorative outdoor lights when not at home and at bedtime.
Keep the Christmas tree moist by making sure it has plenty of water around the base and placing it away from heater vents, which can dry it out and make the tree a fire hazard.
Use only UL-approved lights. Read the labels and do not overload plugs or lights strings by connecting more together than the label recommends. Doing so can cause the strings or plugs to heat up or short out.
Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace because it creates toxic chemicals.
Keep open flames such as candles away from the Christmas tree.
Complied from Martinez Fire Department Battalion Chief Gary Thigpen and Lt. Todd Caron.
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