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Fire Prevention Week a chance to inform public

LAWRENCEVILLE - In commemoration of one of the greatest U.S. disasters of the 19th century, National Fire Prevention Week is geared toward educating the public about fire safety and prevention.

Prevention week, recognized this year from Sunday through Oct. 10, may have been spurred by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a two-day blaze that killed hundreds and left nearly 100,000 homeless. As a result, new safety codes were designed, public awareness campaigns launched.

But fire awareness and safety is something that should be practiced year-round, fire officials said.

"Education and prevention is the key to surviving a fire," Gwinnett Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said. "Every member of the family should learn and follow proper fire safety practices."

Last year in Gwinnett, firefighters responded to 1,419 residential fires with two civilian deaths. So far this year, three people have died in 988 house fires.

Statistics show that nationwide, 88 people die every day in home fires. Every 79 seconds, a fire department somewhere is responding to a residence ablaze.

The causes of those fires, Rutledge said, include cooking, smoking, electrical and heating sources. And they are preventable.

Sixty-three percent of those killed in house fires don't have working smoke alarms, Rutledge said.

He offered the following safety tips:

· Install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of the home and in each of the bedrooms.

· Develop a home escape plan and practice fire drills with the whole family.

· Get out, stay out! Never go back inside a burning building.

· Have a meeting place outside, away from the building and call 911 from a neighbor's house.

· Stay in the kitchen if you are frying, broiling or grilling food.

· Never smoke if you are tired, have had alcohol, or are taking medication that makes you sleepy. Remember to provide smokers with deep sturdy ashtrays.

· Keep smoking materials away from things that can burn, such as clothing, bedding and furniture.

· Have electrical wiring checked by a qualified professional, especially if you experience electrical issues in your home.

· Keep portable space heaters three feet away from anything that could catch fire. Turn space heaters off when you leave the house or when you go to sleep.

· Have home heating equipment checked and maintained annually by a certified technician.

· Teach children not to play with fire. Keep matches and lighters out of their reach.

The Gwinnett Fire Department has scheduled two open houses, Sunday at Station No. 20 in Lawrenceville and Oct. 11 at Station No. 27 in Dacula. Both open houses are from 1 to 3 p.m. and will include tours of the stations, apparatus and gear displays and education materials.