When It’s Not Easy to Respond

By: Renee Palagyi, Senior Program Manager Disaster Cycle Services

Today as I put together our internal daily report, I was struck, as I am many days, by the number of fire fatalities in our region. We have had 18 fatalities since our fiscal year began in July. This compares to seven in the same time frame last year.

We always hope the number will decrease each year. There is not an easy or accurate explanation for such a change. We know that we are being notified of more cases and being called to assist in areas where we previously had no requests. We know that many of our counties have aging housing which probably includes old electrical wiring. We know that as we move into the colder months, fires increase with the use of unsafe heating.

Of course, those facts do nothing to ease the burden when horrible things happen to a family. Our Disaster Action Teams, those dedicated volunteers who go out to each fire call we receive, provide immediate assistance and our professional mental health and health service volunteers work with the families to aid in recovery.

One piece our daily report never covers is the third piece of the “Disaster Cycle”. Our response and recovery work receive attention through our work on large-scale or individual disasters. But the third arm of the cycle, preparedness, is where our mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering all begins.

The home fire preparedness campaign is one way that we, and each of our communities, can address the loss of human life in a truly constructive way.  Do smoke alarms save lives? Not by themselves. The bigger piece of this entire campaign is the education which MUST happen to ensure safety in the home. That education may occur during the installation of alarms, with young children during a “Pillowcase” presentation in schools or youth groups, or it may be a Red Cross presenter speaking to a service group such as Exchange, Rotary or Kiwanis. Regardless, there are key points which can make a difference, which can possibly save the next life.

A few simple facts:

  • Cooking fires account for 43% of all home fires
  • Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related fatalities
  • Adults over 65 are more than twice as likely to die in home fires compared to younger adults
  • Nearly two-thirds of all fire-related deaths occur in homes with no functioning smoke alarms
  • Almost one-quarter of smoke alarm failure is due to dead batteries
  • Smoke alarms should be tested monthly
  • All smoke alarms should be replaced after 10 years of use
  • Every family should develop and plan escape plans, with two different exits, in case of fire
  • Families need to exit the home within 2 minutes of smoke alarm sounding

To learn more about our program to help save lives in Northeast Ohio, or to learn how to join our mission, visit http://www.redcross.org/local/ohio/northeast/home-fire-safety.

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