Take house fires seriously

Proper fire safety can save one’s home, one’s belongings and one’s life.

by Paul Buchanan

In the beginning of 2008, I was living in a house in the heart of Dinkytown. On Feb. 2 that year, I was celebrating a friendâÄôs birthday. I turned onto Seventh Street, nearly home. I saw fire trucks a few blocks down. âÄúIt couldnâÄôt be my house,âÄù I said to myself. âÄúThere is just no way.âÄù Incredibly, it was my house; a sheer curtain had caught fire from a hot outlet. Four of my roommates had been home, and, thankfully, no one was harmed. Once the cinders cooled, the fire marshal declared the house uninhabitable. Everyone had to be out within a week. We needed to find a new home, and quickly. If you think classes are stressful, imagine becoming unexpectedly homeless in the middle of a semester and losing everything you own at the same time. I was lucky. I lost nothing, but all my belongings picked up an acrid scent of burnt wood, paint and plastic. The girl whose room the fire began in lost everything. She was lucky enough to have renterâÄôs insurance. Even if she hadnâÄôt, the fire could have been much worse. Two years ago, at the University of Wisconsin, three students died in a house fire. A couple of years before that, three students died in a house fire on Fifteenth and Rollins avenues. Almost all house fire stories seem to share a common thread: They could have been prevented. Whether it was an outlet that a tenant should have told the landlord to change out or cigarettes with errant embers, house fires are most often avoidable with simple precaution. While fire-related injuries, deaths and events are on the decrease, in neighborhoods adjacent to colleges the number has remained constant for nearly 30 years. So, what can you do to keep yourself from becoming a statistic in fire reports? First, make sure all of your smoke detectors are working when you move in and again at the beginning of the next term. In the United States, roughly 80 percent of fire deaths result from fires in homes without working smoke alarms, and half of home fire deaths occur in the 6 percent of homes without smoke alarms. If you live in a rental house, the landlord is legally required to have one working smoke detector installed on every floor and within 15 feet of each bedroom. If you live in an apartment, there needs to be a working smoke detector outside the sleeping area and a carbon monoxide alarm installed within 10 feet of each room lawfully used for sleeping purposes. Carbon monoxide will kill you just as easily as a fire will, but without the heat, light and smoke of a burning home. If you donâÄôt have the proper detectors or if they arenâÄôt working, call your landlord immediately. It is the obligation of the homeowner to keep smoke detectors in working order unless your lease states otherwise. If they donâÄôt respond, call again and send an e-mail for your records. If your landlord is negligent, call the Minneapolis or St. Paul Fire Inspectors Office. Old or loose wiring is also a fire hazard. Electrical problems in the walls are rarely known about until it is too late, but there are some indicators that your wiring is faulty. If you see a spark when plugging something into a socket, if the electric cord feels warm, if an outlet is loosely mounted or if it doesnâÄôt hold a plug, report it to your landlord and get them to fix it immediately. If the problem persists or your landlord doesnâÄôt take care of the problem, again, call a fire inspector. It is their obligation to ensure that your home is safe. Cigarettes are a common cause of house fires. Never smoke inside and always extinguish any and all smoldering materials in water. Keep an ash and butt can on your porch so that there is a place for cigarettes to go other than in couch cushions or on lawns. The Minneapolis Fire Prevention Specialist is coming to Van Cleve Park on Jan. 28 to present an information session from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. There will be fire safety door prizes including fire extinguishers, safety plugs and an emergency ladder. Empower yourself with the knowledge of knowing how to prevent house fires. Paul Buchanan, student neighborhood liaison, University undergraduate student