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2019

The NFPA Public Education Network is made up of fire and life safety education representatives for every state and province who disseminate NFPA information to fire safety educators throughout their state or province. 

Periodically, NFPA will be highlighting success stories from network members. In this post we feature Fire Marshal Eric Guevin, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. The Lake Tahoe area is a year-round destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The dazzling waters, mountain peaks and forests make it a magnet for travelers. This stimulates the local economy, but Fire Marshal Guevin says it raises concerns for fire protection district because many of the vacationers aren’t familiar with the area and there’s a certain type of rental they’re booking.

 “In Tahoe Douglas one in every five homes was an Airbnb type of rental,” he said. “A lot of the fires we had involved smoking materials not being discarded properly; people visiting didn’t understand the fire risk in our community so they would discard cigarettes directly into the wildland and brush.”

Another danger involved wood-burning appliances. Owners and visitors were not disposing of ashes properly. Chimneys were not being cleaned. Education has been key to addressing these problems, he said.

“We do a lot of education to let the ash cool before it’s disposed of in the regular trash stream. We also put dumpsters outside of our fire stations; the community can dump into the ash dumpsters so that the ash can cool.”

Strengthening enforcement power was another critical step in improving safety,” he said. The fire district was able to obtain a code change—a change of use—so that these short-term rentals fall under the purview of the Authority Having Jurisdiction, the fire marshal. “Because it’s a special operational permit you can put your requirements on there. This gives you the legal right to be in a home, because it is open to the public. It’s not a private domicile, they’re not just living there.  It’s open to the public.”

“If they have an occupancy of 10 or more we actually have the owner post their occupancy and post an egress plan on the bedroom door so they know how many people can stay there and how they would get out. We instituted changes to make sure the fire extinguishers are in place, that they are the right size, and that it’s a safe environment for visitors.”

He added that inspections are being done to make sure that smoke alarms are in place, that they’re working, and that they’re interconnected.

Another big concern is making sure visitors know what to do if there is a wildfire. Guevin says the fire district has directed owners to make that information readily available to renters. 

“The big thing for us too is we wanted people to know escape plans, how to get out of the house, and also, emergency evacuation plans in the event of a wildfire, what radio stations to tune to and then what routes and safe zones are in their community. They may not be familiar with the area so in each home the owner includes a brochure that has that information for the renter. It’s usually in a binder for them.”

In his role as NFPA Public Education Network Representative Fire Marshal Guevin encouraged NFPA to produce a safety handout for renters of peer-to-peer hospitality services. The Fire Safety at Your Home Away from Home checklist is a frequently downloaded educational tool.

 

Photo courtesy of KEPR-TV/CBS

 

I recently came across a news story about four people who safely escaped a fast-moving fire in their Kennewick, WA home. Working smoke alarms were credited for awaking them in time to get out safely.

 

It’s always great to hear stories about smoke alarms alerting people to fire, and I’m always grateful when local news outlets highlight their life-saving impact. But here’s where this new story differed from most others. It addressed another vital part of home fire safety that’s often overlooked: home escape planning and practice.

 

While I’m appreciative of the KEPR-TV news reporter who included this information in the story, I’m particularly thankful to Battalion Chief Tod Kreutz of the Kennewick Fire Department, who clearly made a point of highlighting the critical importance of home escape planning and practice.

 

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

 

“He (Kreutz) says they're still not sure why the man was forced to break the glass but says it shows the importance of planning ahead… The battalion chief is reminding families about the importance of having a plan in place, saying it's nearly as important as a working smoke detector. He recommends reviewing everyone's escape routes and your designated meeting place at least once a year.”

 

The story goes on to provide a series of home fire safety tips and recommendations.

 

As public educators in the fields of fire and life safety, we know today’s home fires burn faster than ever, leaving people with a minimal amount of time to safely escape from the time the smoke alarm sounds. While smoke alarms are surely the first line of defense in a fire, knowing how to use that time wisely takes advance planning and practice, and can make the difference between life and death in a home fire.

 

This year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape,” serves as an ideal platform for communicating these messages in the months ahead.

 

Finding opportunities to promote home escape planning and practice, whatever the circumstances, is incredibly valuable; its importance can’t be overstated. I applaud Chief Kreutz for capitalizing on a local news story to do just that.

Cover image of July Safety Source

The July issue of Safety Source, the Public Education newsletter provides cautions in an around the water with our Marina and Boating tip sheet, a fun family Fire Prevention Week activity in the form of a fire escape checklist, and details on the recently released NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development. There’s also much, much more.

With the arrival of summer and the July 4th holiday just around the corner, NFPA is reminding people about potential electrical hazards that exist in swimming pools, hot tubs and spas, onboard boats and in waters surrounding boats, marinas, and launch ramps.

Most people have never heard of nor are they aware of electrical dangers posed in water environments such as electric shock drowning (ESD), and each year people are injured or killed from these hazards.

Electric shock drowning happens when marina or onboard electrical systems leak electric current into the water. The current then passes through the body and causes paralysis. When this happens, a person can no longer swim and ultimately drowns. 

 

Here are tips for swimmers, pool and boat owners:

Tips for swimmers

  • Never swim near a marina, dock or boatyard, or near a boat while it’s running.
  • While in a pool, hot tub or spa, look out for underwater lights that are not working properly, flicker or work intermittently.
  • If you feel a tingling sensation while in a pool, immediately stop swimming in your current direction. Try and swim in a direction where you had not felt the tingling. Exit the water as quickly as possible; avoid using metal ladders or rails. Touching metal may increase the risk of shock.

 Tips for pool owners

  • If you are putting in a new pool, hot tub or spa, be sure the wiring is performed by an electrician experienced in the special safety requirements for these types of installations.
  • Have a qualified electrician periodically inspect and — where necessary — replace or upgrade the electrical devices or equipment that keep your pool, spa or hot tub electrically safe. Have the electrician show you how to turn off all power in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure any overhead lines maintain the proper distance over a pool and other structures, such as a diving board. If you have any doubts, contact a qualified electrician or your local utility company to make sure power lines are a safe distance away.

Tips for pool owners

  • Avoid entering the water when launching or loading a boat. Docks or boats can leak electricity into the water causing water electrification.
  • Each year, and after a major storm that affects the boat, have the boat’s electrical system inspected by a qualified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes of your area, including the American Boat & Yacht Council. Make the necessary repairs if recommended. Check with the marina owner who can also tell you if the marina’s electrical system has recently been inspected to meet the required codes of your area, including the National Electrical Code® (NEC).
  • Have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) installed on the boat; use only portable GFCIs or shore power cords (including “Y” adapters) that are Marine Listed when using electricity near water. Test GFCIs monthly.

 

NFPA has additional resources for swimmers, boat and pool owners, including tip sheets, checklists, and more that can be downloaded and shared. Please visit www.nfpa.org/watersafety.

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