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Fire prevention focuses on increased safety at homes

No strangers to changing circumstances, firefighters are trained to quickly reassess as conditions shift. So, when it became clear Wisconsin would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic for Fire Prevention Week, fire departments did just that – they surveyed the scene and adjusted.

Fire Prevention Week runs from Oct. 4-10, and while annual fire station open houses are canceled, and field trips and Girl Scout troop visits are on hold, the educational programming that forms the foundation of community fire safety will go on.

This year, many departments will host fire safety demonstrations or programs online.

Brad Johnson, fire prevention program section chief for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, the agency that administers the state fire code, says fire prevention education and outreach can help individuals reduce risk, and stop fires before they have a chance to start, which is good not only for communities but also for fire crews, especially now.

“Fire departments have gone to great lengths to keep their crews healthy and safe,” said Johnson. “Any call could expose firefighters to COVID-19 and introduce it to the entire department. That could leave stations under-staffed and could put entire communities at risk.”

Johnson says fire prevention education is an ongoing need, as risks emerge and evolve, with new materials or products, and with changes to daily habits and routines. For example, Johnson says his team is watching state data closely, to see whether the incidence of cooking fires and cooking injuries increase, as more people spend more time and eat more meals at home.

He also expects some new cold weather threats this year. With indoor spaces still presenting risks for COVID exposure, people may try to extend their outdoor activities into the late fall and winter, by heating garages and outdoor spaces. This, Johnson says, could lead to related calls for fires, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of outdoor space heaters.

“They are safe products if used properly,” said Johnson. “Just be sure to read directions.”

Johnson emphasizes that while firefighters are trained and skilled at extinguishing fires, the goal all year long, is always to prevent fires in the first place. It prevents injury, it minimizes property damage and it keeps firefi ghters safe.