FAIRFIELD — When temperatures begin to dip and homeowners start stoking woodstoves and turning on space heaters, said Fairfield Fire Chief Duane M. Bickford, it’s a good time to review fire safety.

October is Fire Prevention Month, and experts suggest replacing batteries in smoke detectors, cleaning wood stoves and chimneys, replacing worn extension cords, checking fire extinguishers and reviewing escape plans with family members.

During cold weather, when house fires tend to be more common, Bickford recommends weekly cleanings of wood stoves. He also advised twice yearly chimney cleanings.

“And burn dry wood, not green wood,” he said, adding that people should not “feed the stove, then leave.”

Keeping the area around wood stoves, cooking stoves and electric heaters free of other materials is also critical, Bickford said.

“Most (fires) involve some sort kind of human interaction. Be aware of what’s happening around the appliance,” he said. “Don’t be complacent around the appliance.”

About 3,500 people die each year in home fires in the country; another 20,000 more are injured, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Last year, Maine set a state record for the fewest fire fatalities on record, with nine.

The downward trend for fire deaths began in the 1980s in Maine, according to public safety records. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Maine averaged nearly 50 fatalities a year.

According to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, in the first six months of 2011, 17 fire deaths had been recorded; a fire fatality Oct. 4 in Biddeford was deemed a suicide.

In Fairfield, Bickford said there has not been a death because of fire in 20 years.

Improved building materials, safer wood stoves, the introduction of pellet stoves, as well as prevention education and smoke detectors have lowered the number of fatalities because of fire, he said.

Fire officials credit smoke detectors, which cost about $7, with saving thousands of lives each year.

Bickford recommended people have at least one smoke detector per floor and have both types of smoke detectors — ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors — in their homes.

Ionization detectors respond fastest to flaming fires, and photoelectric detectors respond more quickly to slowly smoldering fires and white or gray smoke.

Because many fatal fires begin late at night or early in the morning, for added safety, people are encouraged to install smoke alarms inside and outside bedrooms.

Safety officials recommend testing each smoke alarm monthly and replacing batteries twice annually.

Families also are urged to have an escape plan — which includes a designated outside meeting spot — and to practice the plan.

Each residence should have two exits, Bickford said.

When snow starts to pile up, Bickford said, it’s imperative to keep the area just outside doors free of snowbanks.

“If you don’t, you cut your chances of escape by 50 percent,” he said.

Citizens also should make sure address numbers on homes and mailboxes are free of snow so emergency personnel can spot homes more easily in an emergency.

Bickford said Fairfield Fire Department officials will inspect residents’ wood stoves and smoke alarms to ensure they have been installed properly.

“Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions,” he said.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.