Fire safety tips – AFD gearing for busiest time of year

City firefighters are getting ready for a busy Christmas season, preparing for the spike in fire calls that traditionally accompanies the holiday period.

“This time of the year is usually our busiest,” said Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles. “When the weather turns off cold for any length of time, that’s when we start getting calls. Plus, with the holidays there are a lot of extra things that could happen, with Christmas trees and all the lights. I imagine we’ll have plenty to do over the next few weeks.”

According to the Weather Channel, a cold front that will bring several days of rain to the Atmore area will cause temperatures to plummet below the 40-degree range, with the year’s first official freezes projected for overnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The winter weather is expected to linger for most of the next two weeks.

Fire officials are most concerned about the cold snap and the use of space heaters.

“We have a lot of problems from space heaters,” said AFD Capt. Jeremy Blackmon. “If you’re going to use a space heater, it needs to be at least three feet away from anything flammable, especially curtains. And you need to turn it off if you leave home or when you go to bed. Also, don’t run the cord under rugs or mats.”

Another problem area, especially in older homes, is the fireplace.

“If you have a fireplace, you need to have the chimney cleaned once a year,” Blackmon said. “If it’s a gas fireplace, you need to make sure it’s shut off when you leave home. If it’s a wood fireplace, you need to make sure that the fire is extinguished before you leave.”

The use of candles as a source of decoration, heat or light can also have tragic results. Candles played a role in at least two fires, including one that claimed the life of a 65-year-old local woman, when a power outage spread across the city’s northwest sector in September.

“If you’re going to use candles, they need to be kept away from draperies, live or artificial Christmas trees or anything else that’s flammable,” said Peebles.
The trees themselves can also be a catalyst for a destructive blaze, added Blackmon, who urged citizens to “water your tree regularly, and don’t leave tree lights or other decorations on when you’re not at home.”

Fire officials also reminded residents that all homes should have at least one fire extinguisher and several smoke alarms, for which batteries should be replaced twice a year, preferably when Daylight Saving Time begins and ends

A final tip comes into play if fire department personnel should be dispatched to your home or business because of a fire or perceived threat of fire.

“Every building needs to have a number,” Blackmon said. “If it doesn’t have one, there needs to be a sign with the house number on it, or the number needs to be on the mailbox where it can be plainly seen. The numbers need to be at least three inches wide and three inches high, and they need to be reflective.”

Peebles said adherence to the warnings and application of the simple safety tips would go a long way in reducing the number of times AFD personnel would have to be dispatched to fight fires this winter.

“It’s mostly common sense,” he said. “If people would just follow these fire safety tips, we would have a lot less fires in the city.”