Fire prevention efforts pay off

Firefighters take week to remind people what they can do

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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Sherri Wilette didn't want to put a fire sprinkler into her rural Ridgefield home when it was built in 2005, according to Battalion Chief Tim Dawdy of Clark County Fire & Rescue.

County regulations require it, so she put it in. In April, that sprinkler system paid for itself.

The system was activated when a fire sparked in her garage when she wasn't home. The sprinklers helped contain the blaze until firefighters arrived and limited damage to an estimated $30,000.

Wilette's glad she put the system in now, Dawdy said.

Stories like hers show the importance of having fire safety equipment in homes, primarily smoke detectors and residential sprinkler systems, Dawdy said. He and representatives from other local fire agencies are using this week, Fire Prevention Week, to remind folks to stay safe by preparing for the possibility of a fire.

Fire Prevention Week dates back to 1911, the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, which killed hundreds, left thousands homeless, destroyed countless buildings and charred 2,000 acres. The fire began Oct. 8, 1871, according to poplar legend, when a cow knocked over a lamp inside a barn.

"They gave a bad rap on Mrs. O'Leary's cow, but that didn't cause it," Dawdy said. "It was people's carelessness."

The fire got people thinking about fire codes and safety.

Dawdy says the biggest thing people can do these days to protect themselves and their property from fires is to have working smoke detectors.

"If the fire starts in your house, there's not much we can do about it until we get there," Dawdy said. "By the time you call 911, we're four minutes away."

Dawdy said smoke detectors can sniff out smoldering fires before they are a big problem. This week is a good time to check that they're working, he said. He also suggests people check in with others in their area, particularly the elderly, vulnerable or those who may not have money, to see if they have working smoke detectors.

Alarms available free

Clark County Fire & Rescue will hand out smoke detectors and batteries to anyone who visits a fire station. And, "If you live in the district, we'll come out and put it up," Dawdy said.

The Vancouver Fire Department recommends people develop a home escape plan and practice it regularly. Through the month, firefighters will visit fourth-graders in Evergreen and Vancouver school districts.

"Fire is unpredictable and moves faster than most people realize, so having a tried-and-true escape plan with 'two ways out' is essential to ensuring your family's safety if a fire breaks out in your home," Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said in a release.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,389,500 fires in 2011. The fires caused 3,005 deaths, 17,500 injuries and more than $11 billion in property loss.

CCF&R's Dawdy said the week is particularly important because of the current conditions in Clark County.

The National Weather Service in Portland reports that Vancouver saw just 0.28 of an inch of rain between July 1 and Sept. 30 -- the driest such stretch in history.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://twitter.com/col_cops; paul.suarez@columbian.com.