OKC Fire Provides Life-Saving Smoke Alarms To Residents In Need
By Heide Brandes | Photography provided
Residential fires account for 90 percent of all childhood burn deaths, and in many states, more children die in residential fires than as motor vehicle occupants or pedestrians.
The majority of fire-related deaths are due to the poisoning effects of smoke inhalation and asphyxiation, not the burn itself. Smoke alarms are an effective, inexpensive means of providing early warning of fire and are 50 to 80 percent effective at preventing death or injury.
While more than 90 percent of U.S. homes have a smoke alarm, as many as 25 to 34 percent of these alarms may be not functioning properly. The lack of functional smoke alarms in residential dwellings is a risk factor for residential fire-related injury or death. An estimated 80 percent of fire-related deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms, according to a report by The Future of Children.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department is looking to change those fatal facts with a program that provides free smoke detectors and installation to residents in the Oklahoma City area.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department Project Life Smoke Alarm Program is designed to provide and install smoke alarms for residents of Oklahoma City who cannot afford a smoke alarm or who are physically unable to install one.
The smoke alarms come with a sealed, 10-year lithium battery and should be installed in every bedroom, hallway and living area.
“Even if a resident simply needs a new battery for the smoke alarm, the fire department will deliver and install it as well,” said Benny Fulkerson, battalion chief and public information officer for OKCFD.
In an effort to encourage all Oklahoma City residents to have working smoke alarms, the Oklahoma City Council approved in December a new ordinance that requires every one- or two-family residence to have a working smoke alarm.
The new ordinance implements the same requirements for existing homes as those for construction of new homes and all multifamily housing structures.
“The Oklahoma City Fire Department has always maintained the stance that having working smoke alarms is so important,” said Fulkerson. “Right now, if you build a new home, the ordinance requires you to install smoke alarms, but no ordinance existed for existing homes. This new ordinance amends an existing ordinance, and the goal is to have smoke detectors in every home in Oklahoma City.”
The ordinance does not have a criminal penalty for those without smoke detectors, but homeowners will be given a notice about where to get alarms for their homes. For those who have worked fatal fires in Oklahoma City, the ordinance is a good move.
In Oklahoma, burns and smoke inhalation are the leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4. In 2014, Oklahoma was among the three states that had the most deaths per million population in the U.S.
According to Oklahoma City Fire Captain Chad Adams, four to six percent of homes in Oklahoma City do not have a smoke detector at all, and 20 percent of homes have smoke alarms that are not functional.
“That means 25 percent of homes in Oklahoma City do not have working smoke detectors,” he said. “That’s around 55,000 homes. We’ve had a few fires in the past weeks, and in one of those, a smoke alarm we provided saved the family.”
At the Oklahoma City Fire Department, a “Wall of Fame” displays smoke detectors which have saved lives during a fire. Twenty scorched, blackened alarms are on display, and those are only a few of the alarms that were given to the department by homeowners who survived a fire.
“If you have a working smoke alarm, your chances of survival double,” Adams said. “Fires don’t happen when you expect them to. Most fires occur between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when residents are home and asleep.”
Because of the non-natural fibers and materials in most homes today, the smoke from fast-burning, hotter-burning materials is lethal. In fact, Adams said, people would have only two to three minutes to escape before being overcome by smoke.
“Most fatalities in residential fires are from smoke inhalation,” he said.
Protecting The Public
Project Life began five years ago and was originally funded through federal grant money. Today, however, the Oklahoma City Fire Department funds the program in their budget and with an annual 5K race held in September.
“Every penny raised goes to purchasing smoke alarms,” said Adams. “Through the 5K, we are able to provide about 2,000 smoke alarms. We provided 5,000 alarms in 2016.”
The fire department works with ACE Hardware on Reno to purchase the alarms at cost.
“The best way to get a smoke alarm if you need one is to drop by your closest fire station,” Adams said. “They install it, plus it gives you a chance to meet the guys.”
For more information about Project Life, call the Fire Department Public Education at 405-297-3318.