The O’Fallon Fire Department answered 52 fire calls from Dec. 27 to Jan. 1.
Fire Chief Brent Saunders said the volunteer department usually averages three calls a day, so this was an unusually high volume. During that time frame, the weekend registered 28 calls from Friday through Monday.
This number concerned city officials enough to invite Chief Saunders to present information at the next Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Mayor Herb Roach said the goal is to educate residents about precautions and prevention.
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“We want to try to ensure that our first responders are available for critical calls,” Roach said.
The drastic change in the weather, a prolonged period of below-freezing temperatures, had caused some problems, Saunders said.
“The majority of the calls were because of smoke alarm activation. It was not from fire, but from the alarms going off,” he said.
Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half, he said. When smoke alarms are installed but do not operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead.
Saunders said investing $10 in batteries when you look at it is a minimal investment.
“The cost of prevention is pennies in the grand scheme of things. People spend money on homeowners’ insurance. A smoke detector is an asset. Changing a battery is a minimum cost,” he said.
Another concern is that people are not as aware that a 9-volt battery that they have placed in their pocket can indeed spark and burn a hole through a pocket, he noted.
“We will have a brief educational opportunity to discuss battery care and replacement in smoke detectors, and operating carbon monoxide detectors,” he said.
During the cold spell, some residents were heating their water pipes with propane.
“It caught on fire, but we were able to extinguish it right away before it got worse,” he said.
“We can inform our residents how to take some simple steps to preventing water line breaks in their homes,” he said.
They will stress precautions to be taken when trying to thaw out frozen water lines, and they hope to help residents prevent and check out malfunctioning alarm systems, he said.
One of the main causes of fires in the city is cooking fires. Food left on the stove will attract curious pets inside the house while residents are gone.
A gas burner can be turned on while a pet is trying to get to the food.
“Pets are like little kids. They’re simply trying to find the food, not have malicious intent,” he said. “We give general housekeeping tips and how to prevent kitchen injuries. We want to make sure nothing could ignite.”
Saunders said during the winter, when inclement weather is on the horizon, people are more aware.
“People tend to plan a little better, so they are more prepared,” he said.
For instance, when people know the streets will be slicker, they drive slower.
Saunders said that modern space heaters are equipped with safety features so that has reduced home fires.
“They’ve gotten a lot better. They are not causing fires like they used to,” he said.
Saunders was named chief in 2004, and the volunteer department was paid per call. In 2008, he was named full-time chief, after marking 25 years as a volunteer firefighter. In 2014, he was named Fire Chief of the Year by the state chiefs association.
Fires are a serious public safety concern, as homes are the locations where people are at the greatest risk from fire, Saunders noted.
Home fires killed more than 2,290 people in the United States in 2016, according to the National Fire Protection Association. On average, seven people die in U.S. home fires each day.
“Roughly half of home fire deaths result from fires reported at night, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are asleep. Home smoke alarms can alert people to a fire before it spreads, giving everyone enough time to get out. Having a practiced fire drill with two ways out provides for safer exiting during a critical time.”
The fire department is pleased to present educational programs, Saunders said. Firefighters go over drills to help residents be prepared.
“We go into schools and give presentations on fire prevention, and our Citizens Academy has a number of sessions on fire safety,” he said.
Saunders also praised O’Fallon’s Explorer program, as they have 50 Explorers. The police and EMS have their own Explorer units, too, and all the programs are expanding.
“How many jobs can you do before you go to college that gives you a great understanding of the field before you decide on what you want to do? I think these opportunities are great. And even if they don’t go into it, it makes them better people,” Saunders said. “They learn first aid, CPR, things that they will know the rest of their lives. We encompass so much into the training programs.”
Information is a key to public safety, Saunders noted. He is hoping there will be a positive outcome to the Town Hall presentation.
“We want to look at the big picture,” he said. “The more engagement, the more people will remember what not to do. During questions, people can open up. We’ll talk about things people shouldn’t do, and as we talk, people may say they didn’t consider that. They can relate, and these things tend to hit home.”