Fire Marshal: Common sense prevents fire

by Sarah Fay Campbell

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Fire Marshall Jimmy Gantt shows this melted smoke detector, which he found still working and buried under a foot-and-a-half of debris in a burned home. 


Not all home fires can be prevented, but many can be by following a few simple steps, and being prepared can be the difference between life and death.

Retiring Coweta County Fire Marshal Jimmy Gantt recently shared tips for reducing the risk of a fire and increasing the chances of survival if a fire does occur.

The number one rule, of course, is to have smoke detectors in the home. And make sure they work — check batteries at least once a year, replacing detectors over 10 years old. If a smoke alarm makes an intermittent chirping sound, it often means the batteries need to be replaced.

Many people become frustrated when detectors sound due to smoke related to cooking. This may drive many to remove the batteries — and leave them out — rendering the smoke detector useless.

The newer, though more expensive, photo-electric style detectors are designed to cut down on nuisance alarms.

More often than not, though, the problem is caused by the detector being too close to a stove.

“When buying a smoke detector, always follow the included instructions,” Gantt said. Make sure windows in the home can be opened easily, in case of a fire. Have an escape plan for the family — and practice it. “Practice it with your kids. And not just in the daytime but at night,” Gantt said. “Make sure they know what the smoke alarm sounds like and what they are supposed to do when they hear it.”

Of course, preventing fires is most important.

“One big cause of fire is unattended cooking,” said Gantt. “In many cases, people fall asleep while food is on the stove. Sometimes, alcohol is involved. Frying is typically the most dangerous type of cooking when it comes to starting fires.”

Space heaters are also commonly involved in fires. “The majority of the time, the heater didn’t cause the fire,” Gantt said. “What caused it was the heater being too close to combustible materials.” The newer style space heaters are safer, but can still ignite items like blankets and paper.

“Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding how far to keep the heater from combustible materials,” Gantt said.

Other wintertime fire dangers include chimney fires and those related to Christmas decorations.

“We’ve had a rash of chimney fires,” Gantt said. Most of have already burned themselves out by the time the fire department arrives, but any crack in the chimney can spark and cause a fire,” Gantt said.

It’s recommended that chimneys be inspected and cleaned each year.

If using a live tree during the Christmas season, the tree should be kept watered. And never leave Christmas lights on when leaving the home.

Many home fires are electrical in nature.

“Usually some kind of appliance,” Gantt said. “If you have appliances that something just doesn’t seem right with, that’s something to be wary of.”

A light the flickers even with a new bulb, can be a sign of an electrical problem, as can a breaker box that is unusually warm. In any of these cases, a licensed electrician should be contacted to correct the problem.

Gas appliances are also something to be aware of. If gas can be smelled, the source of that smell should be located right away.

Never store any form of gas inside or near the home. A spill or even vapors can cause a fire. Gantt recommends storing lawn mowers and other gasoline-powered equipment away from the home.

Fires don’t have to start inside the home to be dangerous.

Recently, a Grantville home was destroyed by a fire that began when the homeowner was burning items in a barrel. The barrel fire spread in the grass, eventually leading to the home. High winds fed the house fire.

A permit from the Ga Forestry Commission should be obtained before attempting outdoor burning. Permits are not issued when dangerous fire conditions — such as high winds — exist. For permits, call 877-ok2burn or visit www.gatrees.org. Only natural vegetation is allowed to be burned. Burning man-made materials, especially garbage, is illegal.

Never leave an outdoor fire unattended, and always keep a water hose — and a cell phone — handy.

When grilling, the grill should be 10 feet away from any combustible materials including vinyl siding.

Fighting a fire in the home should never be the immediate action of the home owner. The first course of action should instead be to get everyone outside. Then, call 911.

“Even if you think you can put it out — call first,” Gantt said.



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