Education key to fire prevention
Gwinnett Fire to hold an open house, safety seminar

LAWRENCEVILLE - With Halloween just weeks away, there will be plenty of scares.

But perhaps the ultimate fright - a raging house fire - can be avoided with proper education, Gwinnett Fire officials say.

The department will recognize National Fire Prevention Week - to be held Oct. 5 to 11 - the entire month of October. Dubbed "It's Fire Prevention Week: Prevent Home Fires!," the week is adopted by fire departments across the country and commemorates the Great Chicago Fire, which burned from Oct. 8 to 10 in 1871, killing hundreds of people and destroying more than five square miles of the Windy City. The blaze was considered one of the largest U.S. disasters of the 19th century.

The department will host several community-based fire survival activities in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, at the Board of Commissioners meeting, firefighters, staff and other officials will join Fire Chief Steve Rolader as a proclamation is presented designating next week as National Fire Prevention Week and the whole month of October as Fire Prevention Month in Gwinnett County.

This Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., the public is invited to Station 20, located in Lawrenceville, for an open house and seminar on proper fire safety practices. Additionally, throughout the month firefighters will lead station tours and community education programs at various fire stations. The emphasis will be on promoting proper fire safety practices as well as showcasing equipment and station itself.

"Firefighters want to get the word out about proper fire safety practices," said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge. "Education is the key to surviving a fire. Knowing simple fire safety rules can save your life."

To do just that, fire officials are urging individuals and families to take part in "The Great American Fire Drill" by planning and practicing a home fire escape. For information on escape planning, visit www.sparky.org and download the grid and develop a fire escape plan. Officials recommend practicing a fire drill until everyone is on the same page.

Gwinnett Fire recommends the following tips to developing a sound plan:

· Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home and have one inside each sleep room and outside of each sleeping area.

· Test smoke alarms at least once a month.

· Develop a fire escape plan that identifies two ways out of each room and a family meeting place outside.

· Make sure your plan allows for any specific needs in your household. If everyone knows what to do, everyone can get out quickly.

· Practice using the plan, at least twice a year. If everyone knows that everyone else is ready to exit quickly, no one will lose precious time trying to help someone who doesn't need help.

· Some children and adults may not awake to the sound of a smoke alarm. They may need help, to wake up and get out. Knowing that ahead of time is all part of the plan.

"Whether the list of tasks is posted on the refrigerator door, is a running tally in your head or takes on the form of a reminder that lives in your latest organizer gadget - the time is now to get this item moved to your 'done' list," Rutledge said.

According to the most recent statistics, there were 396,000 home fires in the U.S. in 2006. In Gwinnett in 2007, firefighters responded to 1,274 residential fires resulting in three fatalities. So far this year, there have been 819 residential fires reported and one fatality. Cooking is the No. 1 cause of home fires, with unattended cooking being the main culprit.

For additional information contact the programs and services section of the Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services at 678-518-4850.

SideBar: If you go

What: Station 20 open house and fire safety seminar

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 1801 Cruse Road in Lawrenceville