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Olson: October is Fire Prevention Month

The week of October that includes the date Oct. 8 always is designated as Fire Prevention Week, while October itself is Fire Prevention Month.

It was Oct. 8, 1871, when the Great Chicago Fire started. The blaze destroyed more than
3 square miles of the city, killing at least 300 people and leaving more than 100,000 homeless. On the very same day, what began as a forest fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, killed as many as 2,500 people, a tragedy overshadowed by the conflagration in Chicago.

Structure fires still are a regular occurrence in DeKalb County, and if they happen in your home, complacency can be a killer – or at least a destroyer of some of your most valuable possessions.

This week at our Rotary Club of DeKalb meeting, our guest was Karl Froehlich, who retired from the DeKalb Fire Department after 22 years of service, and who now owns Firewatch Safety Services Inc. in DeKalb, which specializes in providing businesses and industry with fire safety consultation, fire training and fire risk assessments.

Froehlich shared several tips that could save your life and property in the event of a fire.

The No. 1 cause of house fires is something most everyone does: cooking. Froehlich recommends you never leave the stove unattended and always cook with the lid for the pan nearby. Stovetop fires usually can be extinguished simply by replacing the pan lid and cutting off the air supply. Then, let it sit until it cools before moving it, even if it’s kind of smelly, so you don’t spill and scald yourself.

The other top causes of house fires are careless smoking, candles, electrical problems and arson, Froehlich said.

“Fire doesn’t just start by itself,” he said. “There are very few spontaneous combustion fires.”

One interesting tip Froehlich offered: When a building is on fire, close the doors. Closing the door to a room on fire will contain the blaze; closing doors to other rooms can keep fire and smoke out. It’s also a good idea to close the door to your room when you sleep – although when you have children who are afraid of the dark, that’s kind of tough.

“The simple act of closing a door does amazing things,” Froehlich said.

Other helpful tips Froehlich offered:

• Candles are trouble. Don’t let them burn unattended or light them before you fall asleep. Don’t burn them for hours on end, either.

• Always have two ways out of any building. In the case of your house, one of those ways may be out a window.

• When at a hotel, count the number of doors between your room and the stairwells or exits so you know how to get out, even in a smoky hallway. Never take an elevator in a fire.

• There’s a saying, “If the fire is bigger than me, it’s time to flee.” That might mean physical size, but it’s also about a fire growing faster than you can handle.

“You’re not firefighters. Get away from it,” Froehlich said. “That’s why we have insurance, and we have fire departments.”

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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