Program Aims to Make Homes More Fire-Safe

Saturday, 09 October 2010

By Robin Pyle, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

While working on estate sales through his church, Charlie Brown noticed that many of the elderly residents didn’t have smoke detectors — or, if they did, the units didn’t have batteries or just didn’t work.

He became concerned that many home-bound senior citizens weren’t able to keep up with the safety of their homes, which made those older residents who are already especially vulnerable during fires even more at risk.

Brown, the volunteer director for the Citizen’s Fire Corps, is doing something about the problem. He is working with the Lubbock Fire Marshal’s Office to train members of his church to go out and check the homes of older members to make sure they are safe.

“We’re hoping that if it works really well, we can make it a city-, county- and region-wide effort,” Brown said.

Oakwood Methodist Church is serving as the pilot program for the project, and fire officials are hoping the effort will eventually expand to other churches and groups, though they didn’t know when the services might be available on a large scale.

While seniors are especially vulnerable, fire officials urge all residents to make sure their homes are safe before winter comes and to help those around them.

“This is a good time to remind people that this is the time of year that you need to be concerned about that,” Brown said, noting more house fires occur in the winter than any other season.

While there are many potential hazards in homes, Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Loveless said, two significant problems in Lubbock center on the lack of working smoke detectors and improper maintenance of heating systems.

And they’re big problems because not having a working smoke detector has contributed to several Lubbock deaths in house fires in recent years, and problems with heating systems have contributed to a number of house fires and carbon monoxide poisonings in the area.

Tyrell Smith, a 19-year-old father of a 2-year-old boy, might have survived a house fire in January if the smoke detectors in the home had worked. Family members reportedly disabled the detectors because they had been chirping.

Detectors should be tested and batteries replaced at least once a year. Residents with gas appliances should get carbon monoxide detectors because carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can be fatal.

To prevent heating unit problems, Loveless strongly recommends getting units professionally serviced by a licensed contractor annually.

Low-income families, senior citizens and disabled residents can get help with inspections.

The South Plains Air Conditioning Contractors of America will service heating units free of charge on Oct. 23 for those who qualify as part of its annual “Heat the Town” program. For more information and to register, call 762-8721.

All residents can use the Lubbock fire marshal’s residential inspection list to help them pinpoint potential issues in their home. The list includes advice from the Fire Marshal’s Office and Lubbock’s Building Inspection Office. The list is just a guide and may not include all potential issues.

Brown encourages residents to take the time to really look at their homes.

He recently did it, and it helped him make improvements. For example, he installed an additional smoke detector and unblocked a couple of windows.

“It was really an educational experience for me, and I thought I knew what I was doing,” Brown said.

To get more information on fire safety, schedule a free carbon monoxide test of your home or learn more about getting free smoke detectors, call the Lubbock Fire Marshal’s Office at 775-2646.

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