FIRE : NO Laughing Matter!
By: Ed Knight, III CFEI/CFIIi
Retired Assistant Fire Marshal, City of Lancaster, PA • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
While I was observing a “live-burn” evolution at the Pequea Lane Live Burn Facility in Lancaster, PA, another observer remarked, “Fire is no laughing matter”. She had been invited to observe the live-fire training to better understand what firefighters go through in order to be prepared for the “real deal” when they are called to face the emergency. I got thinking about her remarks and the evolutionary process that all of us in the emergency services go thru from time-to-time.
Consider this, when children celebrate their first birthday(s), we place a cake with a lighted candle atop it in front of them and sing Happy Birthday. There is lots of laughter and gifts given to the birthday person(s) and a good time is had by all; a truly memorable occasion for the birthday-person(s). Then the second birthday comes along and so-on and so-forth.
Now, fast forward three to five years or so. The birthday person(s) is having a tough time dealing with life’s issues. Things are not going well, dad’s yelling, mom’s spanking and life is just plain horrible. As memory would have it, I (the child) recall the happy days, cake and lighted candles. So guess what, I (the child) will “make it all better”. A carelessly left pack of matches or lighter, and maybe a decorative candle, or perhaps just any-old combustible material will do: let the “party” begin; how about, the nightmare?
Juveniles, who are responsible for many fires, got their fire-setting beginning at their first birthday party watching a candle burn; blowing it out and singing. Some negative fire-setting behaviors begin at an early age, like preschool. It has been my experience, that children as young as 18 months have been involved in fire-setting behaviors, not just matches, lighters also. Without education and training to evaluate cause and effect, what will the outcome be if negative behaviors are “played out”, the result can be deadly?
Fire is a tool; to heat our homes, cook our food, light our way; a tool such as a hammer, screwdriver, plier, etc. Fire has a purpose.
Several years ago, First Alert, McDonalds, the hamburger folks, teamed up with the New York Fire Department, and WCBS-TV 2, to produce “Plan to Get Out Alive”. The program was narrated by Dr. Frank Fields. The program is dead-on realistic. Charlie Wagner, a co-narrator of the program and a FDNY Fire Marshal emphatically states that many juveniles that set fires are about 3 years of age and less.
I have presented this program many times at training sessions and other speaking engagements to educate the attendees. It is always well received. I wish that the visual was again available to the public, on DVD this time. The focus of the program is fire safety, fire prevention, children and fire with the emphasis on basic survival in a fire situation. Stressed in the program is proper installation and maintenance of smoke alarms, designing and practicing an escape plan with a meeting place away from the building for accountability, oh, yes and notifying the fire department immediately.
As I write this article, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania thru the auspices of Fire Commissioner Ed Mann’s office is re-igniting’ the juvenile fire-setter intervention and counseling initiative. Does your area have such a program? It should for the benefit of all persons places and things.
Throughout my career, that spans several decades, I have been involved in rescues and origin and cause investigations of literally thousands of fire and other emergency incidents [fatal and non-fatal]. Folks who have experienced fire(s) will typically do everything in their power not to go thru it again. Then there are the living injured; keep in mind that when you are burned, you are burned for life. “Stuff” can be replaced, lives can’t and burns never totally heal. Smoke alarms and sprinkler systems are life- saving and life-protecting devices. Both are relatively inexpensive to install and maintain; what’s your life and the lives of your family worth? Smoke alarms alert you to a fire and or smoke condition, sprinklers control and extinguish the fire; you may get wet, (but you won’t get dead). Present day technology has given us the ability with readily available devices to protect our lives and property, some [of us] just won’t use them.
Ed Knight is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI/CFIIi); a fire instructor (O&C 1033) member of KCFSI; a retired municipal assistant fire marshal, and forensic investigator. He is Chairman of the LCFA’s Pequea Lane Live Burn Facility, Pequea Lane (West Lampeter Twp), Lancaster, PA 17602.