Fire knows no ages. Therefore, when it comes to preventing fires, it behooves all ages to get involved and learn as much as possible.
"Fire safety information saves lives. It’s as simple as that," said Wes Jones, Mansfield Fire Department firefighter and spokesman. "Whether it’s in your own home or in your place of employment, education and clear markings of important fire hazards and safety equipment can prevent injuries and save structures as long as people are well aware of everything they need to know.
"Children have a natural curiosity to play with matches and lighters. They think fire is fun. Fire is usually introduced to them in a fun way. For instance, during a birthday with candles on the cake, around a beautiful burning fire in the fireplace, or when camping with a camp fire. So children see fire as a fun thing."
And while it can be fun, as aforementioned, Jones said it cannot be stressed enough to respect fire and what creates it.
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"Explain to them items like lighters and matches are only for adult use," he said. "Regular training of family, students or personnel should occur often to keep everything fresh in their minds and prepare them for any dangerous emergency."
Which is where this weekend's Fire Safety Palooza comes in, part of National Fire Prevention Month. The event, in its fifth year, will be held at the Mansfield Independent School District (MISD) Center for the Performing Arts Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is sponsored by local businesses and is for all ages.
The Fire Safety Palooza will feature a Junior Firefighter Challenge Course to give children an idea of what a firefighter goes through. Live kitchen demonstrations will be held throughout the day. Also, the Mansfield Fire Rescue will display their fire apparatus and ambulances.
There will be vendor booths and food trucks, along with arts and crafts for kids, bounce houses and more.
"While older kids and adults are aware of the basics of fire safety, preschoolers still have no idea about this phenomenon," Jones said. "By making education fun, it grabs the child’s attention so they can appropriately deal with fire-related situations."
Jones said the Mansfield Fire Department answered 9,643 total calls in 2016 (5,363 fire runs, 4,280 EMS runs). He said cooking equipment is the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries, according to the National Fire Prevention Agency. Smoking is the leading cause of civilian home fire deaths. Heating equipment is the second most common cause of home fire fatalities.
"When a pot or a pan overheats or splatters greases, it can take seconds to cause a fire," Jones said. "Stay in the kitchen when cooking, especially if using oil or high temperatures. Most kitchen fires occur because people get distracted and leave their cooking unattended.
"In days past, furniture, carpet and curtains were made from man-made material. Today, everything seems to be made of synthetic material. Synthetic burns faster and at higher temperatures."
Jones said the top priority when it comes to fires is getting to safety - and doing so in the calmest way possible to avoid chaos.
"The most important thing to do in the event of a fire is to exit the home/building in a safe and orderly manner. In order to accomplish this, everyone should be aware of the fire exits," he said.
"As adults, getting out of a house on fire comes as second nature. But children respond in just the opposite way. To escape fire, they often try to hide under a bed, in a closet, or behind furniture. They even hide from the firefighters trying to save them."
To help with this, Jones recommends looking at the situation from a child's point of view. That way, he said, it's easier to understand their actions and help them.
"First, most home fires start at night when everyone is sleeping. When awakened, kids are groggy and confused. Smoke fogs their vision, which is made even worse by coughing and watering eyes," he said. "Plus, fire is loud, blindingly bright, swift moving, and frightening.
"When firefighters get into a home, they’re in full protective gear, including face masks and oxygen tanks. They may have an ax or fire hose. Firefighters breathing into masks sound frightening, not all that different from Darth Vadar of the movie 'Star Wars.'"
To further complicate things, a young child’s logical thinking hasn’t matured, Jones said. To them, out of sight means out of harm’s reach.
"They falsely believe that not seeing fire means it can’t find them. Those factors combine to put kids at greater risk of dying in a house fire than an adult," he said. "But parents, caregivers, and teachers can fight against those odds. By the time children reach age 2, they can be taught fire survival skills."
There are also things a person should definitely not do in a fire, he said. While something might seem like a good idea, it can also worsen a situation.
For example, never attempt to extinguish any fire if there is a threat to your safety. If the fire is small and you know how to use a fire extinguisher, it is okay to attempt to extinguish it, but if it grows, get out of the way as fast as possible.
"You must note that fires can increase in size and intensity in seconds, blocking the exit path as well as create a hazardous atmosphere. Call 911 and let the professionals do their job," Jones said.
But nothing tops being prepared. It saves lifes, and often prevents a fire from even starting in the first place.
Young people and families can take charge themselves when it comes to prevention, Jones said. Some tips include:
▪ Never play with matches, lighters or candles.
▪ Tell grown-ups to store lighters and matches in a place you can’t reach or in a locked cabinet or drawer.
▪ Practice exit drills in your home and always have two ways out and a meeting place outside that is safe for everyone, whether a mailbox, tree or even a neighbor’s house.
"The best practice is to prepare for the emergency before it happens. In the event it does, your prepared. The better prepared you are, the less frightening it will be," Jones said.
"It is critical for grown-ups to talk to our young friends and family about ways to stay smart."