State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher helps spread the word on fire prevention and safety in Gainesville
Many serious accidents and emergencies happen at home and quite often they involve children. In fact, fire is one of the top causes of accidental death in the home. And when things go wrong, parents may not be able to come to their child’s rescue.
All the more reason to teach children how to handle an emergency, says State Fire Marshal and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.
Brenda Proctor from Gainesville couldn’t agree more. Three weeks before Christmas, Proctor’s home burned down but she and her two children, ages 8 and 10, got out safely. Proctor credits a fire safety education class and escape plan as the reason her children escaped the fire uninjured.
"In November, my children came home from school with a sample fire escape plan and we sat down and talked about what to do and how to get out if a fire strikes in our home," said Proctor. "The kids were excited about what they had learned at school and were eager to practice the escape plan we put together. Practicing that plan not only prepared us for that awful fire, it saved us."
Gallagher was in Gainesville on January 7 and joined Alachua County Fire Chief Will May and Shirley Copeland, a fire safety educator for Alachua County Fire Rescue, to talk with more than 200 third graders from Charles W. Duval and Hidden Oak elementary schools about fire safety. He also commended principals from both schools for promoting fire safety education in their schools.
According to Gallagher, young children have the highest risk of death and injury from fire. "A great place to start spreading the message of fire safety is through our children and I commend Alachua County Fire Rescue and Alachua County Public Schools for their commitment to fire prevention and education."
A new web page at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm provides information that families can use to create a home escape plan and includes games, safety tips and coloring pages that can be accessed at home and used in the classroom.
While in Gainesville, Gallagher also took the opportunity to help deliver free smoke detectors to at-risk homes. Simona Banks, mother of third grader Diante Banks, was one of the recipients of these life-saving devices. Mother and son also said they planned to create a fire escape plan and practice.
"Good planning and awareness are essential to surviving a fire, but even the best planning won’t help if you don’t have enough time to get out. Every plan must start with a working smoke detector," said Gallagher.
According to fire officials, every year hundreds of Floridians are killed or injured by fire. At least half of those tragedies could be prevented with a device that costs about five dollars. Of the structure fires reported last year to the State Fire Marshal's Office by fire departments, it was determined that a smoke detector was not present in 91 percent of fires.
"Smoke detectors not only give early warning of fires, they also allow time to escape, cutting the risk of death by fire as much as 50 percent," said Gallagher.
Chief May concurred. "Alachua County Fire Rescue, with the help of partners such as Lowe’s, has an incredible smoke detector program and has equipped hundreds of homes in the last year," he said. "Our goal is to ensure every home in Alachua County is equipped with these life-saving devices."
Gallagher hopes to join local fire officials in other areas of the state to help promote the importance of fire prevention and education.
"Education is where fire service needs to begin," he said.