Carrboro and Chapel Hill have joined fire departments around the country in celebrating the National Fire Protection Association’s 100th annual Fire Prevention Week, which is from Oct. 9 to Oct. 15.
Fire departments participating in Fire Prevention Week seek to educate children, adults and teachers about how to stay safe during fires. This year, the campaign — “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.” — aims to teach about the things people can do to protect their homes from fire.
Fire Prevention Week provides an opportunity for the National Fire Prevention Association and local fire departments to encourage people to take steps to make an escape plan in the case of fire and to spread information about prevention measures.
NFPA released key fire safety tips on escape planning, apartment safety, home fire sprinklers, campus fire safety and smoke alarms.
“We just take this opportunity for this week in October to really emphasize the fire safety importance,” Chapel Hill Fire Inspector Chris Covington said.
In the last fiscal year, the Chapel Hill Fire Department responded to 3,737 calls — even with a staff reduction of 12 members during the year. The Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department responded to 1,761 calls in that same period.
Not all calls signal an active fire. Firefighters respond to events from heart attacks to vehicle accidents to active house fires.
Sammy Slade, a member of the Carrboro Town Council, said the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department does their job for the community, plus much more.
“It’s not just putting out fires, it's responding quickly to emergencies and helping people make sure their houses are prepared for fires,” he said.
Alex Carrasquillo, community safety public information officer for Chapel Hill, said there are only a few significant fires each year, but that people should not ignore the threat of fires.
“It’s easy to think that you're immune to fire if you’re not seeing the losses that come with it, but one of the biggest points is how quickly things can change,” he said. “You don’t realize how tough things are until you’re suddenly a victim of it.”
Carl Freeman, the deputy chief and fire marshal for the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department, said that the most common causes of fires include unattended cooking, improperly discarded cigarettes and use of candles and citronella sticks in the home.
“The common causes of fires we see are human nature,” Freeman said.
NFPA reported that, between 2014 and 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 172,900 fires caused by cooking activities per year. These fires caused an average of 550 civilian deaths, 4,820 injuries and over $1 billion in direct property damage per year.
An annual average of 3,840 yearly fires occur on college campuses in dormitories and related properties.
Covington said one of the disheartening aspects of responding to fire calls on UNC's campus is when firefighters arrive on the scene to people who have not taken steps to evacuate the building when alarms are sounded.
“No matter if you’re in your room, if you’re at a restaurant, at a hotel — please take it seriously,” he said. “If the fire alarm activates, you need to evacuate.”
Freeman said to always respond to fire alarms when they go off, and to never deface sprinkler devices within buildings.
Both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have programs to help with fire-related risks by installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and resources to help citizens improve fire safety.
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