In the wake of the January Keswick fire that took the lives of a woman and her two children in mid-January, Charlottesville Fire Department Batallion Chief Rich Jones said CFD’s goal is never to have another fire death in the area. It’s a lofty aim, he admitted, but through education and preparedness, it could be a reality.
“The number one thing is you have to have working smoke alarms in your home,” Jones said. “You also want your kids to know how they work and what to do. A lot of families have smoke alarms, but they never discuss with their children what to do if they go off.”
A working smoke alarm increases your fire survival chances by more than 60 percent, according to Jones, and CFD will install alarms free of charge in any city residence. Once the units are in place, Jones said to test the batteries once a month and replace them every time you change the clocks for daylight savings time. He suggested involving your kids in smoke alarm maintenance to make it an educational process.
Jones said parents should take a cue from schools and practice fire drills at home. When a fire starts, most parents instinctively look for their children; if everyone knows how to react and where to go, the family will have a better chance of escaping. Make sure everyone is aware of multiple exit routes in case the primary route is blocked, and establish a permanent meeting place a safe distance away from the home. Jones said he’s shown his kids a way to get to their meeting spot through their bedroom window.
“Where are you more likely to have a fire?” Jones asked. “At school or at home?”
Technology has given us lots of gadgets that can be helpful in a fire, Jones said, and he would never discourage the use of laser smoke detectors or recordings of parents’ voices in place of standard fire alarms. But the best plan of attack is to prepare ahead of time and nail the basics.
“You can buy the best smoke alarm on the market, but if you don’t make sure it works, it isn’t going to help you,” Jones said.