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Gwinnett fire department tackles safety, education year-round

Gwinnett County Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge lets students at Great Beginnings in Dacula touch his fire gear Tuesday. Rutledge is the leader of the department’s Community Risk-Reduction Division, which educates the community and helps prevent fires. (Staff photo: Tyler Estep)

Gwinnett County Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge lets students at Great Beginnings in Dacula touch his fire gear Tuesday. Rutledge is the leader of the department’s Community Risk-Reduction Division, which educates the community and helps prevent fires. (Staff photo: Tyler Estep)

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Gwinnett County Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge talks to a group of students at Great Beginnings in Dacula Tuesday. The students participated in a fire house demonstration. (Staff photo: Tyler Estep)

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Gwinnett County Fire Educator Stella Kim teaches students at Great Beginnings in Dacula how to check the temperature of doors during a fire. Kim is part of the Gwinnett County fire department’s Community Risk-Reduction Division. (Staff photo: Tyler Estep)

DACULA — Sylvia Goalen has a very important question for a group of pre-K students.

“What if I left my favorite Hello Kitty inside?” she asks, pointing to the fire demonstration house the youngsters at Great Beginnings in Dacula just emerged from. “Should I go back in that building?”

The answer is resounding. And adorable. And correct.

“No!”

Goalen is a full-time fire educator with the Gwinnett County fire department’s Community Risk-Reduction Division, a small team that has already offered more than 1,000 educational programs this year. October is Fire Prevention Month in the county, but Tuesday’s visit on Harbins Road is much like any other day for her and her colleagues.

Gwinnett County fire responded to a total of 1,336 residential blazes in 2012, and the department has seen three fire-related deaths each of the last two years.

Prevention and safety are tasks tackled year-round, whether it’s with kids, adults or seniors.

“The best fires are the ones that you never have to respond to,” said Capt. Tommy Rutledge, the department’s education manager.

A lot of the tips that the fire department stresses in its educational efforts are simple.

Homes should be equipped with working smoke alarms on every level and portable fire extinguishers should be stored in the garage, the kitchen and the master bedroom. Families should make — and regularly practice — an escape plan with two different possible exits.

Four key facts can help residents realize just what they’re dealing with in case of a fire, Rutledge said:

— Fire is dark. Folks often have the misconception that “fire is light,” Rutledge said, but the inside of a burning house is pitch black. In trying to escape, you should crawl low to the ground. Smoke can fill a home in as little as two or three minutes.

— Fire is hot. Hot air rises, and ceiling-level air in a house fire can be as hot at 100 degree Fahrenheit. During the first few minutes of a fire, air at floor level is “only” 90 to 100 degrees.

“We walk around Hotlanta, Georgia at 100 degrees,” Rutledge said. “We can survive that.”

— Smoke and gas are the No. 1 killer. A majority of fire-related fatalities are actually due to smoke inhalation. Again, crawl low and know that human beings lose their sense of smell while they sleep — smoke alarms are vitally important.

— Time is against you. In a house fire, it can take only about five minutes for enough smoke, heat and gas to make sure no one survives, Rutledge said. Do not scramble to change out of pajamas or grab valuables. A full blaze can double in size every 30 seconds.

Anyone interested in more information or in hosting a fire safety program should contact the Gwinnett County fire department’s Community Risk-Reduction Division at 678-518-4845 or fireprograms@gwinnettcounty.com.