A simple way to protect your family

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It may seem an unusual thing for the Department of Homeland Security to worry about. Nonetheless, home fire safety is on the minds of our national leaders, who will make an appeal today for people who have smoke detectors in their homes to check that they work and for those without the lifesaving devices to install them.

The statistics are bleak and depressing. Since Thanksgiving, there have been more than 158 fatal fires in the U.S., resulting in more than 200 fire fatalities, according to a departmental press release. United States Fire Administrator Greg Cade called the period since then one of the deadliest holiday seasons in recent memory.

Many of the fires were preventable, he said. “The occurrences of multiple fatalities resulting from these fires are simply unacceptable within our nation,” he added. “There should be a smoke alarm protecting every person in this nation today, particularly as we sleep.”

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Recent incidents across the nation bring home the message that missing or non-functioning smoke detectors cost Americans their lives. Four adults and three children died in a Philadelphia home the day after Christmas, when gasoline was used to fuel a kerosene heater. The home had no working smoke alarms. In Baltimore, a young couple died in a blaze above a grocery store, and investigators found no working smoke alarms in the building. Sixty-five percent of the fire deaths in the period from 2000-2004 occurred in homes without working smoke alarms.

Smoke alarms are cheap and easy to maintain. Install them on every floor of your home and inside and outside sleeping areas. Then, replace the batteries every six months or so, or when you hear the low-battery warning, and you will have substantially raised the odds of your family surviving a fire, especially one that takes place when they are asleep.

It’s a simple way to protect yourself and your loved ones, and it’s sensible advice from the agency charged with protecting Americans here at home.