Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Alarms are important tools, can save lives

By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 2, 2013 at 4 p.m.
Updated March 1, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.

Fire is a powerful thing. It can bring gentle light and warmth, or it can rage out of control and destroy everything in its path.

Unfortunately, some families in Victoria have lost their homes to this force of nature. Even worse, one family lost their 12-year-old son to an early morning fire. These incidents are tragic and remind us of the importance of being prepared in an emergency situation.

The frightening thing about house fires is their unpredictable nature. Sometimes there are obvious triggers that can be avoided, such as not placing a space heater or candle near bed sheets, curtains or other easily flammable materials, but there are other times when the trigger is random and unexpected, such as an electrical malfunction in the house's wiring or in an appliance. In any of those cases, a dangerous situation can spring up in moments, and if residents are not awake and alert at the time of the fire, it can prove to be disastrous.

We encourage all residents to make sure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms. These simple, inexpensive pieces of equipment monitor for smoke 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with minimal maintenance.

We think this issue is an important one that needs more community awareness. The community often steps up after a tragic fire to help families with donations of money, clothing or other basic necessities, so why not begin an effort to donate and distribute smoke detectors?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2005-09, 38 percent of home fire deaths were in residences without smoke detectors, 24 percent occurred in homes where the detectors were not functioning correctly and 1 percent resulted from fires that were too small to trigger an alarm. Only 37 percent were in homes where the fire alarms were functioning.

These statistics highlight the importance of keeping functioning smoke detectors in every home. We never know when or where a fire will strike, so we must always have precautions in place.

Victoria Fire Department Chief Taner Drake said the department has considered a communitywide smoke detector distribution effort before, but the resources are not available at the moment. The department is doing research to estimate how many detectors could be needed in Victoria and is looking for grants or corporate sponsorships to buy enough detectors to sustain a citywide effort. The department keeps a few on hand, but Drake estimates there are currently only about 40 available.

"We want to get our ducks in a row before we make a big community push," Drake said. "A big push right now would overload us."

A communitywide effort to make smoke alarms available is an important goal, and we are glad to see this concept is being examined by the fire department. We think the Victoria city and county fire departments could partner with citizens, churches, nonprofits, community groups or even the Red Cross to collect donated smoke detectors in addition to any grants or sponsorships the department may find. Once enough are donated, firefighters and volunteers could conduct a door-to-door distribution and show residents how to safely install and maintain their smoke alarms.

Drake said the department prefers to offer alarms that run on lithium batteries, which have a five- to 10-year battery life. The department is also happy to come help residents who have bought their own detectors install them in their homes and make sure they are placed properly.

We encourage Victoria city and county officials to consider and investigate this effort to increase awareness and ensure every home in Victoria is equipped with smoke detectors. A smoke alarm may not stop a fire, but it will alert everyone in the home and give them a better chance to get out safely. A house and other material possessions can be replaced, but we each have only one life.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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