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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Danger! Danger! Will Robinson *

Danger at home and how we deal with it.

Fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, accidents at home. These are preventable.

We are so busy, with most homes having to maintain two careers, and the care of children and often ageing parents. We can put things off. Put our head in the sand, about danger at home.

Home means the safe place to go to. Well, if it isn't, is it really a home?

There are really simple and inexpensive things we can do to minimize danger at home.

We visited Holland, MI this winter and heard about the fire that leveled about a third of the entire city. And within the same week, across the Lake, another city had a massive fire. Hundreds of homes were destroyed all at once, overwhelming the city's ability to fight all the fires at once.

People used to light their homes with gas flames in sconces on the walls in drafty homes. I can't imagine what happened when the flame blew out...

Anyway, we have this recreational thing we do that involves lighting a roll of paper with various dried plants inside. Fire that is recreational. Matches left out where children can get to them, and people often drink and smoke together, and so they are not as responsible with smoking as they should be.

People still cook with fire, over open flames lit by gas, and electric stoves when unattended can cause a fire to start.

Fire Departments don't have an advertising budget. If they did, they would advertise having smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers in every home. As it is, they take some of their time voluntarily and go to schools to teach fire safety and they hope that the children teach their parents to do these things.

But children don't have the money to go out and buy a fire extinguisher, and even if they did, they probably would spend it on video games. I don't know about you, but when I was young my parents didn't listen to me that much.

Why are we relying on children to teach their parents, when often in the more fire-prone neighborhoods, the parents aren't around enough already? They are already overburdened, and the children have to fend for themselves a lot of the time.

I don't know why we don't have an ordinance that requires all homes to have a working fire extinguisher. We have had a big push in our city after a rash of fires to get working smoke detectors in all homes, even to the point of going around and giving away 9 volt batteries every year. This improved things, but even though people got out alive, their homes were often destroyed by the time it was all over. A working fire extinguisher could save the home, too. I know some people with beautiful large homes, fashionably decorated, that have not a single fire extinguisher in it that could stop a small kitchen fire from travelling throughout the house.

I was involved in being a presenter at a workshop on healthy homes, and the saddest part was the story the Firemen told of going into homes where everyone had died silently in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is odorless. A carbon monoxide detector doesn't cost much more than a smoke detector and might be the only warning you get besides a nagging headache.

We childproof our homes, but what about fireproofing them at the same time?
To be safe at home, a home should have a working smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector, an excape route and escape plan posted.

I think that every time we have a time change -- daylight savings -- we should do more than just check our smoke detector batteries. We should all have a checklist of simple things we can do to make sure our homes are safe. Some of these only need to be done once in several years. My carbon monoxide detector cost about $40 and it has been working to protect our home for 6 years now. Smoke detectors last at least that long, too.

Every home should have two workable exits that can be used in case one exit is blocked by fire. We don't have a back door, really. We live upstairs and there are two doors pretty much right next to each other near the front of the house. And one of them is in the kitchen, where a fire might be likelier to start. So at the back, I put an escape ladder that rolls up and is stored underneath a back window in my son's room.

I hope everyone reading this has:

  • A working fire extinguisher in their kitchen, and anywhere people regularly smoke, and a working smoke detector with good batteries in it, that they have checked to see if it is working twice a year.
  • A working carbon monoxide detector.
  • Two safe exits from their home.
  • A plan for what to do if there is a fire...several ways to get out, and where to meet outside the house.
Another more expensive thing to do is to install a sprinkler system in a home when it is built. It is way less costly to do this when a home is first built, and the bigger and more expensive the home, the more value would be saved by a sprinkler system. If the fanciest hotels in the world all have sprinkler systems, then any home can have them and not sacrifice appearance and that much cost.

Often the newer systems will have a way to only go off in the room that the smoke is. And not from smoking itself, or more hotels would have a problem with it. It is much better to have a few things in one room get temporarily wet, than to have to wait for the fire department to come and by then risk loosing the entire house, and even some lives of people and pets.

This is something you do just once, like installing a sub-pump in your basement, and then you have this protection for the life of the house. I bet you can get lower home insurance that would offset a lot of the cost of the system.

If almost every home in America now has a big screen television, a fancy cell phone, and a computer, then we certainly can afford these things which could save us so much heartache and expense.

I keep a small fire extinguisher in my car, too. I saw a car flip over in front of me on the freeway once. I stayed with the driver until the police came, but in the meantime, I was constantly worried that a fire would start. After that, I bought a small fire extinguisher for my car. It might not help that much, but I don't think I could ever stand by and watch someone trapped in a burning car and do nothing. If nothing else, the extinguisher could just buy the person some time for the rescuers to get there.

And with all the technology and safety systems cars have now, why don't they have smoke detectors too? This type could alert a remote location that a fire has started even if the driver is unconscious. The best part would be if there was a way to safely deal with a car fire automatically. Like a car sprinkler system. Wouldn't it be great if part of a car's self-defence mechanism could take all the fluids in the car that are used for other things, and redirect them to use to put out a fire? If the car has a gallon of wiper fluid, it could be enlisted in at least slowing down the progress of a fire. I think we should make cars that used two or more gallons of wiper fluid and have a system that could direct it inside the car where it could help a passenger survive a car fire.

I think every city should have a non-profit fund or foundation that will provide, install, monitor and maintain a working smoke detector, a working fire extinguisher, and a working carbon monoxide detector for every low-income household. This would keep the housing stock safer, even if there are absentee landlords, and prevent the problems associated with people who have the least resources to deal with it having to be uprooted, move and replace everything they own. Plus, we could then check on houses that might have become abandoned, because if they have a fire, by the time someone notices, they could have set the houses on either side on fire.

I used to wonder about suffering and why it existed. Suffering is never going to be completely eliminated, but in my lifetime, after seeing some truly horrific things, I have come to realize that the worst suffering is the preventable kind. Because there is a whole other level of suffering that is even harder to deal with over time, and that is guilt and regret. Physical pain can often be dealt with and adapted to, and it is often limited in time, but guilt and regret can poison a life for decades or longer.

A little bit of preparation, planning, and forethought can save so much hurt, expense and regret later on.

* For those of you too young to remember the TV show "Lost In Space" from 1965 - 1968, this is the show's classic line that the Robot routinely says in its deadpan voice to the youngest boy, Will, when the Aliens show up.


The same day I wrote this, a house blew up in my city. The couch flew through the front window, the house was lifted up off its foundation, and every room was affected. Luckily, no one was home at the time. The occupants were attending a funeral! It could easily have been their own.

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