Does your smoke detector go off when you burn the toast or heat up the oven? That BEEP-beep BEEP-beep BEEP-beep sound may be annoying. But you should be grateful you can hear it. The loud sound is designed to get your attention, and get it fast.
Don't even think about disconnecting your sensitive smoke-alarm system. Those smoke detectors could save your life and the life of your family!
Officials at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments are concerned. They're worried because people continue to be injured and to die in fires. From Jan. 1, 1987, through June 30, 1987, 22 people have died in fires in our metropolitan area, and 232 have been hurt. Seven of the fire victims died in the District. Six died in Prince George's County. Four died in Alexandria, two in Arlington, and one each in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Only Montgomery County had no deaths from residential fires during that six-month period.
Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the houses the victims lived in had contained working smoke detectors, the Council of Governments says. In the District, a city law requires that all dwellings in Washington have operating smoke detectors. If a family can't afford to buy and maintain the detectors, the D.C. Fire Department will give them one free. In spite of the law, some people still don't have smoke alarms. Or if they do have them, they don't keep them in good working order, and that's pretty dumb.
Fire prevention officials want to remind everyone of the need to keep detectors in good working order. Their message is: Smoke detectors have birthdays, too -- and new batteries are the best present you can give them. Test your smoke detectors' batteries once a month, and replace batteries at least once a year.
If your family is ever awakened by the sound of the smoke alarm going off, follow the steps outlined below. Each family should have a fire-escape plan that they have practiced several times. Fire drills at home are just as important as fire drills at school. And the same rules apply: During the drill, stay calm and take the practice session seriously. That way, everyone will learn what to do if an emergency really happens.
If you don't have a fire-escape plan in your family, sit down tonight and make one. If possible, figure out two ways to get out of each room in your house. If you don't know how to make the plan, contact your local fire department for help. Fire departments are happy to help people prevent, and protect themselves from, fires.
Now, here's what to do if you wake up to the sound of the smoke alarm going off. This advice comes from the District of Columbia Fire Department. It has published a fire safety coloring book in which a character named Clarence escapes from a fire in his home. Here are Clarence's safety tips: :: If you wake up at night and smell smoke, don't jump up. Instead, crawl out of bed. Stay low. During a fire, the cleanest air is near the floor. :: Feel the door to see if it is hot. If it is not hot, open the door slowly and follow your pre-planned escape route. :: If the door is hot, or is blocked by fire and smoke, don't open it. Crawl your second escape route, and follow your family's plan. :: When you reach your meeting place, count heads. Do not let anybody go back inside. :: Call the fire department. There are only three numbers to remember: 911.Tips for Parents
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and area fire chiefs are currently engaged in a month-long fire awareness program. If you live in the District and would like to find out about Clarence's coloring book and other fire safety programs, contact the Community Relations Unit of the D.C. Fire Department at 745-2347.
For information about giveaway programs in other jurisdictions, contact your local fire department, or the Council of Governments, 1875 Eye St. NW, Wash., D.C. 20006-5454; phone 223-6800.
During October, many jurisdictions are conducting smoke alarm giveaways and a variety of educational programs. In Arlington County, for example, the fire department will visit schools to teach a fire safety education course in elementary grades. Other classes will be visited by request. Contact the Arlington County fire department's public education department at 558-2481.Catherine O'Neill is a free-lance writer based in Baltimore.