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Sunday, Feb 02 2014 02:00 PM

DOUG GREENER: Let's all be safe from fire hazards this winter

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield fire chief Doug Greener.

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BY DOUG GREENER Contributing columnist

While Midwestern and Eastern states have been hammered by cold weather related anomalies including frozen-clippers, arctic-expresses, super-storms and mega-fronts, the West continues to baste in spring-like conditions. Not good for the West Coast brush fire threat, and the lack of precipitation has exacerbated and extended the red flag season well beyond its normal perimeters. But the 2014 forecasts will eventually reflect winter conditions again, so it's still appropriate to share winter safety reminders.

BFD firefighters will likely respond to a multitude of cold-weather related emergencies over the next several months, and face potentially serious winter season fire safety issues as well. I hope that with a little communitywide proactive due diligence, common sense and focused attention some of these incidents will be minimized.

With the return of rain, you can be sure the roads will be especially slick due to accumulations of oils and other surface matter. During the winter months, the fire department responds to numerous vehicle related accidents, most of which are caused by impatience and inattention, particularly during wet weather. Weather aside, the morning commute is already bumper-car-like, with excessive speed, tailgating and red-light-running prevalent. Firefighters would prefer to not use the Jaws-of-Life to pry someone from a wrecked vehicle, so please slow down, be extra courteous and cautious, and be aware of increased stopping distances on wet surfaces.

Fires caused by inappropriate use of heating appliances are a serious concern for firefighters this time of year. On Dec. 14 a pregnant woman died in a central Bakersfield structure that was severely damaged by fire caused when material from a wood burning stove used to heat the space rolled out onto the floor, igniting combustibles. On Jan. 23 a toddler died of burns and hyperthermia in a Detroit home after being placed too close to a space heater and left unattended in his covered stroller. Both are tragic and completely avoidable incidents.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters and other heating devices caused 53,600 residential structure fires, 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in property damage in 2011. Heating related fires were the cause of 14 percent of all reported residential fires that year. BFD firefighters are frequently shocked to find barbecues, stoves, candles and other dangerous open flame devices used as home heating devices. Please use only approved indoor heating appliances, be careful with open flame devices, and properly dispose of fireplace ashes and coals.

Smoke detectors are particularly important during winter months, as well as a year-round awareness campaign for the Bakersfield Fire Department. On Dec. 9, a southwest Bakersfield family had to be rescued by BFD firefighters because there were no working smoke detectors in their home, and a rapidly spreading fire cut off their escape routes. The earlier noted December fire fatality in central Bakersfield was also a case where no early fire related warning devices were present.

Smoke detectors can be purchased for about $10, greatly improving occupants' chances for survival during the early stages of a residential structure fire. Homes should have a smoke detector in every sleeping room, one in hallways and stairway landings leading to those rooms, and one on each level or floor.

Carbon monoxide detection devices are now mandatory per California Health and Safety Code 17926. Combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are available for about $30, and provide early fire warning and additional protection from CO gas from malfunctioning heating and cooking appliances. Please change the batteries and test the performance of all detectors at least twice a year.

Hopefully, Christmas trees are now long gone, but every year BFD firefighters are left perplexed at the sight of dehydrated trees still standing in Bakersfield living rooms and businesses well into February. The resulting fire from these dead, bone-dry trees and fireplace embers, heating elements, or candles is explosive. In less than a minute, room temperatures soar to more than 1,000 degrees, making escape or survival unlikely. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one in every 40 reported fires that began with a Christmas tree results in a death. If you haven't already done so, please remove and recycle your trees, soon!

On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department and our response partners, I ask that you please give us your assistance in proactively protecting our community during the winter months. Please be safe and have a happy (and hopefully wetter) 2014 winter season.

Doug Greener is chief of the Bakersfield Fire Department. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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