Safety lessons to be learned from recent fires

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT Buchanan firefighters responded to a small structure fire at 402 S. Oak Street in Buchanan Tuesday morning. It started when a cigarette caught a mattress on fire.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
Buchanan firefighters responded to a small structure fire at 402 S. Oak Street in Buchanan Tuesday morning. It started when a cigarette caught a bed on fire in the multi-unit apartment structure.

Local firefighters are using recent structure fires to remind residents how to prevent fires from happening in their homes during Fire Prevention Month (October).

Chief Larry Lamb, of the Niles Fire Department, said a sprinkler system stopped a potentially dangerous fire from spreading at Parkview Apartments in Niles last week.

The fire, Lamb said, started when a tenant fell asleep while cooking food on the stove of his apartment unit. The contents of the pan caught fire and began to climb to the microwave and cabinets above it before the building’s sprinkler system was activated, stopping the fire very early on.

“If there wasn’t a sprinkler system here I have no doubt that the entire occupancy of the room itself would have been destroyed,” he said. “If we wouldn’t have gotten to it quick enough, we could’ve lost this whole building.

“Without a sprinkler system the risk is higher, the fire loss would be higher — it is like having little firefighters stationed there ready to go.”

The Niles Fire Department also used the opportunity to educate residents about cooking safety tips.

One of the best tips, Lamb said, is to never leave cooking unattended because fires can happen quickly.

He also advised people never to cook while intoxicated and to never try to move or carry a pan in which there is hot grease or a grease fire.

“Cooking has become one of the most common (types of fires) we deal with, so there are a lot of different things that can impact that,” said Lamb, adding that people should keep a lid nearby in order to smother a cooking stove fire. “Cooking is something we all need to do, but we need to do it safely so we don’t put our families and neighbors at risk.

Lamb also contrasted the Parkview Apartments fire with Saturday’s fire at the Niles Housing Commission — an older building that has no sprinkler system.

A neighbor at the housing commission used a fire extinguisher to put out that fire before it could spread outside the unit in which it originated.

“You aren’t always going to have… a neighbor there with a fire extinguisher to put it out,” Lamb said. “The big contrast with the Parkview fire is that that fire would have went out whether there was anyone there or not… it is just a huge difference in safety.”

Capt. Tim Wesner, of the Buchanan City Fire Department, said Buchanan firefighters have already responded to two structure fires in the city since Monday — the day they kicked off fire prevention programs in recognition of Fire Prevention Month.

“This is not the way to start it off,” Wesner said.

Both fires, he said, originated from cigarettes.

The first fire, which happened late Monday night into early Tuesday morning, began when cigarettes were discarded next to a residence on Terre Coupe Street near the intersection of Roe Street.

The second fire occurred at approximately 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a multi-unit apartment structure on South Oak Street.

Wesner said the tenant at 402 S. Oak accidentally caught her bed on fire with a cigarette. No one was injured.

“People shouldn’t be smoking in the first place,” said Wesner, adding that people need to dispose of cigarettes safely if they do choose to smoke.

The National Fire Protection Agency offers several smoking safety tips at, including to smoke outside whenever possible, keep cigarettes/lighters/matches away from children and to never smoke in bed or while intoxicated. The NFPA also advises people to use a deep sturdy ashtray, make sure cigarettes are out before discarding them and to never discard them in vegetation.

Other safe cooking tips:

• Install a smoke alarm on every level of the home. Test batteries every month and change them at least once a year.

• Make sure all appliances are turned over before leaving or going to bed.

• Wear short, tight-fitting sleeves when cooking.

• Never use the range oven to heat the home.

• If an oven fire occurs, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

• Keep towels, pot holders and curtains away from flames and heating elements.

• Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease build-up, which can ignite.

• Heat oil gradually to avoid burns from spattering grease.