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Dirksen: Develop and practice a home escape plan in case of fire

Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen

Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 8 -14. This year's theme, "Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out," was developed to educate the public about the importance of developing and practicing a home escape plan.

Many people think fire is something that happens to other people. Unfortunately, this common misperception continues to put people at risk to fire each year, particularly at home, where people think they're safest from fire but are actually at the greatest risk.

In fact, today's home fires present increased risks. Newer homes are built with lightweight materials that burn faster than older home constructions.

(Check out the video at New homes are generally designed with open floor plans that enable fire to spread rapidly. Meanwhile, many of the products and furnishings in today's homes are produced with materials that generate dark, toxic gases when burned, making it impossible to breathe or see within moments.

In short, home fires present a real risk that everyone needs to take seriously. One of the most basic but vital elements of home fire safety is having an escape plan that everyone in the household has practiced. In a fire situation, when the smoke alarm sounds, a practiced home escape plan ensures that everyone knows how to use the precious minutes wisely.

I am confident that we all can remember fire drills while we were in school. These drills teach us the importance of being aware of our surroundings at all times. They teach us that we need to be thinking about how we will exit an area if trouble arises. Fire drills teach us to react in situations that are not normal or when we are in danger. We only have to look at what is happening in our country. Photos from the recent event in Las Vegas showed a number of people, standing in the midst of people lying on the ground, paralyzed with fear and unable to move. We repeatedly see people in flooding situations that need rescue because they did not find an avenue to get themselves out of harm's way. Several people died in a nightclub in Oakland, Calif., where patrons could not find their way out when a fire started.

As the fire chief of Fargo, I urge all our residents to use this year's Fire Prevention Week campaign as a reminder to develop a home escape plan with everyone in the household and practice it throughout the year. A home escape plan includes working smoke alarms on every level of the home, in every bedroom, and near all sleeping areas. It also includes two ways out of every room, usually a door and a window, with a clear path to an outside meeting place (like a tree, light pole or mailbox) that's a safe distance from the home.

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Dirksen is the fire chief of the Fargo Fire Department.