By Johnny Jackson
Henry County Fire Lt. Vince Harris recalled an incident, from last fall, in which 11-year-old Wesley Wooden helped his grandmother get safely away from her burning home.
Harris said the youngster is a student at Timber Ridge Elementary School, where he and his fire crew frequently visit and give fire-safety demonstrations.
"I think with us having that continued presence, it helped," said Harris, of Fire Station No. 13 in McDonough. "We consider that our school. When they do something good, we take that personally."
The lieutenant said the fire-safety demonstrations that he and his fellow firefighters give at the school apparently have far-reaching effects. He noted that, by giving young children more confidence and knowledge to act wisely during a potential crisis, lives can be saved.
Henry County Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett said officials often take the fire-safety message to area schools and organizations, in hopes the message will spread.
"We do fire-safety education in efforts to prevent loss of life and property to fire," Puckett said. "When we teach the children, we always encourage them to go home and talk to their parents about what they have learned. This way, we are able to reach a large number of the adult population -- through the children."
"It's something we take very seriously," added Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Chief Landry Merkison. "We're in the schools year-round. Most of our population is in the schools," he said.
"One of the main benefits is you reach your primary target audience, because a lot of the things we want to prevent [involve] injury to young children. Plus, kids, when they are at that young age, that's when they absorb the most information."
Authorities in Henry and Clayton counties are encouraging area residents to be mindful of the potential hazards in using home heating alternatives this winter, as well as the related dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"The biggest mistake a lot of people make is using outdoor equipment indoors," said Merkison. "The biggest thing is making sure you comply with safety recommendations of the manufacturer.
"We do not recommend ever using kerosene or propane heaters indoors," he continued. "It's also not a good idea to heat your house with your oven, especially older ovens."
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) also warns that the use of a range or oven as a heating alternative is "a safety hazard, and can be a source of potentially toxic fumes." The administration, an entity of the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides fire-safety tips on its web site, at www.usfa.dhs.gov.
The web site highlights the prevalence of poisoning from toxic fumes, particularly from carbon monoxide, the odorless, colorless gas known as CO. The site states that, "each year in America, carbon monoxide poisoning claims approximately 400 lives and sends another 20,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment."
USFA officials advise residents to install, at least, one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal, in their homes. The alarm should be evaluated and rated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
The agency recommends the alarm be placed near the sleeping areas, and outside individual bedrooms.
"During this time of year, fires do increase due to alternative heating," added Capt. Puckett. "Carbon monoxide calls have been on the increase [in Henry County], as well."
Puckett said the Henry County Fire Department hopes to obtain funding in the future to expand its "Get Alarm Henry Program" to include carbon monoxide alarms. The existing program was developed through the use of a grant from the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation, she said.
The program provides smoke detectors to Henry County residents who are unable to purchase fire-safety kits. Puckett said fire stations also will install the detector kits "free of charge to any one who would need them."