By Maria-Jose Subiria
Georgia and the National Fire Protection Association wants families and individuals to be safe during these coming cold months, according to the insurance and safety fire commissioner of the Peach State.
John Oxendine said that Fire Prevention Week runs until Saturday, Oct. 9, with this year's theme being: "Smoke Alarms: A Sound You Can Live With!"
"Most fatal fires start between 11 p.m., and 6 a.m., while the family is asleep," said Oxendine. "Nine out of 10 fire victims are already dead before the fire department is even called, mainly from smoke and toxic gases. The advance warning of a smoke alarm can mean the difference between life and death."
Wayne Whitaker, a spokesman for Oxendine's office, said the state of Georgia requires a smoke alarm in every home. Individuals should install working alarms in every level of their home, including alarms inside and outside sleeping areas.
"If you already have smoke alarms, don't forget to replace the batteries annually," advised Whitaker.
Oxendine recommended that smoke-alarm batteries be changed twice a year, specifically during daylight savings time, and when clocks are switched back to Eastern Standard Time. Fire drills at home should also be conducted twice a year, during the clock changes, he added.
Spokesman Whitaker said if a smoke alarm goes off, individuals must direct themselves to the nearest exit. If a person encounters smoke in his or her path, he or she should turn and walk toward an alternate exit.
"If you must exit through smoke, get low, and go under the smoke to your exit," said Whitaker, in a prepared statement. He advised that individuals shouldn't take time to retrieve belongings, but instead exit the building, and assist others in exiting. The process should be fast and calm, he said.
"Fatalities occur every year when people try to go back inside a burning home, usually to retrieve possessions," said Whitaker.
The Henry County Fire Department is also emphasizing the need for families to have operational smoke alarms in their homes, according to Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett.
"National Fire Prevention Week is a time to focus on keeping our homes and our loved ones safe from the tragedies that fire can cause," Puckett said. "The Henry County Fire Department urges all citizens to take this week, and ensure that they have working smoke alarms in their home ..."
"The vast majority of fire deaths in Georgia occur in the winter months," added Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Oxendine, during a phone interview. The reason, he said, is because it is the time of year when people most often use use products, such as space heaters and stoves, that cause can fires -- if left unattended.
Space heaters should never be left unattended, he said, and should always be, at least, four to five feet away from anything that is flammable.
Both gas and electric stoves should not be used as heaters. "It [the stove] was made for cooking ... It overheats, and may cause a fire within the stove," said Oxendine.
-- Staff writer Jason A. Smith contributed to this article.