Fire department holds open house

Mary Atkinson · Wednesday, October 23, 2013
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a home fire in the United States is reported to a fire department every 80 seconds. Tragically, fires are also the leading cause of death for children under the age of 15.

Statistics such as these were made apparent during the West Liberty Fire Department's Open House last Sunday, held as part of fire safety week.

Members of the Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), as well as local police, gave controlled fire demonstrations and an accident rescue extrication to emphasize the danger of fire.

In one demonstration, a frozen turkey was placed in a deep fryer and heated to 450 degrees. When smoke and flames appeared a fireman threw water on it, making the situation even worse. Thus, he demonstrated what shouldn't be done in such a case.

In another presentation, a firefighter started a grease fire on the stove, letting it heat up to a point that a fire began. Within ten minutes the entire structure was engulfed in flames.

The lesson? To put out a grease fire, try to put a lid on the pot, spray it with a Class B dry chemical extinguisher and most importantly, call 911.

According to the NFPA, in as little as 30 seconds a simple flame can get completely out of control. Within two minutes a room can become life threatening.

Fire Department Treasurer Kirt Sickels said fires can spread fast depending on the contents of a home. He said one reason kitchens can be dangerous is because of cooking and overheated grease.

"Not only that, but if you add aerosol cans to the situation those things begin exploding and shooting stuff out at the same time," Sickels added. "We tell people to keep them away from the stove area. If you are going to have aerosol cans - put them as far away from that point as you can."

The event brought hundreds of community members to the West Liberty fire department. While fun for children, the intent was to spread knowledge throughout the town on fire safety.

However, free will donations were accepted to help pay for the expensive fire equipment in West Liberty. The NFPA reports that fires cause $5.5 billion worth of property damage in the U.S. each year.

But just as staggering is the price of a necessary suit for one fireman. Sickels said that it costs approximately $35,000 for protective wear per a firefighter.

"The air packs, well, that's where the money is," he said. "That's $30,000 right there."

He also said equipment, such as 'the jaws of life,' also demonstrated during the event, can cost about $60,000. A new fire truck can cost up to $600,000, and cutters that can tear through most anything cost around $20,000.

"I think we have a great department," Sickels said. "I think we've got outstanding equipment. But it's all a necessary evil. Nobody wants to spend that kind of money, but if we didn't have it - we couldn't save lives. We couldn't do what we do."

When asked what top suggestions on fire safety he had, Sickels said get fire alarms. They help with early detection and can get people out of the house.

Unfortunately, roughly 80 percent of home fire deaths occur where a smoke or fire alarm is not present or operating, according to the NFPA.

Sickels also said try not to have a grease fire; for example, try not to fry a turkey inside the house.

And in case of a fire "You should know an escape plan," Sickels said, "Everyone should have an escape plan and know where to meet."

Another thing, which may surprise people, is that firefighters no longer look for window stickers that signify a child might be in that room. He said it is more helpful for firefighters to locate victims if shoes or toys are thrown out of the window to indicate where they children can be found.

"The stickers could be old," Sickels said. "A new family could have moved in that house and those stickers were just left on there. You don't know. We do a 360 around the house and make sure we know what we have."

Lastly, but very important, he said do not call for emergency help from inside the house.

"Get the heck out of the house and dial 911," he said.
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