October is National Fire Prevention Month and every year has a different theme.
This year, the focus is on home fire escape planning.
“Part of that planning would of course be ensuring that people have the tool that can alert them and get them out of the house safely,” said Rudy Owens, public affairs specialist for the Office of the State Fire Marshal. ““We know that when you have a working smoke alarm in your home you are more likely to survive a home fire incident.”
To promote home fire safety, the state operates the Smoke Alarm Installation Program, which provides free smoke alarms to residences which lack them.
Lebanon firefighters were out on Friday installing free smoke alarms at the Cascade Meadows mobile home park as part of this program.
Ken Foster, deputy fire marshal for the Lebanon Fire District, said that in the past two years, Lebanon firefighters have installed 650 alarms.
“We’ve been focusing on our older trailer parks. And we’ve been finding a lot of homes that don’t have any smoke alarms. And those that do have smoke alarms, we’re finding they’re 30 years old. Anything older than 10 years should be replaced,” Foster said.
In addition to the smoke alarm installations, Foster spent last week promoting fire safety in Lebanon’s elementary schools, speaking to more than 400 third-grade students.
The state smoke alarm program is based on community size and Lebanon can submit for 50 alarms at a time, Foster said. Once ordered, it takes about two weeks for the alarms to arrive and the department is given 45 days to install them.
After the installations are complete, Foster submits paperwork certifying where the alarms were installed and orders 50 more.
“We’re getting some good momentum in the program now,” Foster said. “The last batch of 50 were installed in 21 days.”
It is recommended that smoke alarms be placed in every bedroom and living space, and that they be placed on every floor of a home. Many homes are not as well prepared as they should be.
“People don’t understand the importance of a smoke alarm. During the day when you’re up and about you’re probably going to notice smoke, probably going to notice fire. At night, when you’re sleeping, the smoke’s going to get you before the fire is. If you don’t have a working alarm to alert you of that, you’re not going to wake up to it,” Foster said.
According to statistics from 2017, there were just under 500,000 structure fires in 2017, with 72% of those being house fires. There were 3,400 civilian deaths caused by fire that year, with 77% of those occurring in house fires.
Owens said this program has existed in some form for well over a decade. The latest version was launched in 2017 and is funded through the fire insurance premium tax.
Between July 2017 and June 2019, the state spent $127,000 on the program and more than 9,000 alarms were installed at no cost to residents. That works out to a cost of just over $14 per smoke alarm installed.
“It’s a great program. We’re going to keep rolling these out as fast as we can,” Foster said.
The state works with local fire departments and other partners to operate the program. Owens said that in 2018, the American Red Cross installed more than 5,000 alarms in Oregon and Washington.
The alarms that are installed are designed to be maintenance-free. They include an integrated 10-year battery which cannot be replaced.
“Ten years from now, hopefully we’ll go out and do it again,” Foster said.