October is Fire Prevention Month. The message of the annual fire safety campaign this time around is "prevent kitchen fires."
It makes sense to move the conversation to the kitchen since cooking is the leading cause of house fires. The biggest problem is when people walk away from what they're making. Firefighters say people often get distracted or even fall asleep.
The majority of injuries happen when residents try to fight the fire themselves and unlike most flames, water typically just makes things worse. Pouring a small cup of water on a grease fire can turn into a disaster. The flames go down for a second, but then flare back up all the way to the ceiling.
The best way to extinguish a grease fire is to smother it or use a fire extinguisher. Then turn off the stove and let it cool down on its own.
"People panic, they don't know how to put it out,” says Bellevue Fire Prevention Safety Officer Brian Koontz. “A lot of homeowners don't have fire extinguishers so we encourage everybody to get a small fire extinguisher that you can get at your local department store."
Some extinguishers are marketed specifically for the kitchen or your vehicle, but the Bellevue Fire Department says a standard extinguisher should work well across the board. One common mistake is people keeping them too close to the stove. Then it's not available when you really need it.
Firefighters educate a new generation of youngsters every year during National Fire Prevention Week, hoping to prevent fires in the first place and give kids the tools they need to stay safe if they do have to face one. Despite this annual effort, firefighters say we still don't seem to have these lessons down pat.
"A lot of times we'll see people that don't check their smoke detectors,” says Papillion Fire Department Capt. Brad Euans. “Checking the smoke detectors needs to be done twice a year. We kinda tell ‘em every six months. When we do the daylight savings times, change the batteries in them whether they need to or not."
The most recent studies show about two-thirds of all residential fire deaths were inside a home without working smoke alarms. Most fire departments in the region offer a free detector to every household and they'll even install it. All you have to do is call the department and ask.
The Papillion Fire Department recently received a grant to help provide special smoke detectors for the hearing impaired. Bellevue is trying to do the same thing. These detectors, which either have a strobe light or send a vibration, can cost as much as $500.
The National Fire Protection Association says three-fourths of U.S. homes have an escape plan. The problem is most have never practiced it. That plan is one of the most important lessons firefighters have to offer children.
“Have mom and dad set up an exact plan of where they need to meet,” says Capt Euans. “Meeting is important ‘cause if mom and dad can't find them, it puts us in a whole different mind frame of what actions we have to take."
Capt. Euans says a scene becomes much more chaotic for everyone if every person is not accounted for, so teaching this plan to kids every year is a good refresher for the whole family.
Another big fire problem is cigarettes. Firefighters say they're improperly discarded, usually on porches or decks. Their recommendation is to put used cigarettes into metal containers with sand. The Bellevue Fire Department says one recent call involved a cigarette thrown into a plastic container. It burned through the porch and a porch below.