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Florida Fire Prevention Week Focuses on Planning


TALLAHASSEE -- As Florida participates in National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 7-13, the state's Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher urges Floridians to conduct a fire safety check of their homes in light of the following startling statistics.

Last year, fires in Florida took the lives of 143 people, injured 680, burned a structure at the rate of one every 50 minutes and caused more than $163 million in property damage, according to fire incident reports submitted to the Division of State Fire Marshal.

"There is a story of heartbreak and loss behind every one of those numbers," Gallagher said. "This week, we are urging every Floridian to think about fire safety and to take preventative steps to protect their home and family."

As part of fire safety week, representatives of the Division of State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire Prevention, will join local firefighters at numerous fire safety awareness events throughout the state. The theme of Fire Prevention Week 2001 is "Cover all the bases and strike out fire." The campaign's safety messages are structured around a classic baseball diamond: cooking safety is at first, heating safety at second, electrical safety at third. At home plate are smoke alarms and home fire escape planning and practice.

The idea every citizen should catch is: like any good baseball team, winning requires planning and practice.

Of the 143 fire deaths in Florida last year, more than 10 percent were children under the age of 10. More than half were people 40 and older. Sadly, more than a third of those who die every year in residential fires are over the age of 60. The most vulnerable are between the ages of 70 and 79.

Of course, there are no precautions that apply exclusively to seniors. But seniors often move a little slower or have disabilities that make it harder for them to escape quickly, so they do need to plan ahead and be even more mindful of potential hazards, such as medications that may make them prone to fall asleep while smoking or even cooking.

The following safety tips apply to everyone:

· Never leave a stove unattended while cooking - 40 percent of all home fires start in the kitchen.

· Candles and heaters should be kept away from furniture or drapes and out of the reach of children and pets.

· Frayed electrical cords should be replaced, and any electrical cord running under a rug or in a high-traffic area should be relocated because they could become damaged and potentially lead to an electrical short and a fire.

· Ovens, broiling pans and kitchen exhaust fans should be kept clean.

· Do not store chemicals that are not compatible together such as pool chemicals, oils, gasoline and cleaning products.

· Make an escape plan and practice it.

· Test smoke detectors often and change batteries twice a year, even if they're working. Statistics show that, in Florida home fires last year, smoke detectors were installed only 40 percent of the time -- and of those, just 25 percent were working at the time of the fire.

Some good outdoor tips from the Florida Alliance for Safe Homes include:

· Remove dry grass and dead leaves at least 30 feet from around your home and keep branches at least 10 feet from chimneys.

· Prune lower branches within six feet of the ground.

· Landscape using native, fire-resistant vegetation.

· Keep trees and shrubs at least 10 feet apart.

· Maintain a clearly marked street number and a driveway at least 12 feet wide and with clearance at least 15 feet high for fire engine access.

In addition to the various activities involving local fire departments, state fire prevention inspectors will also be on state university campuses offering important safety tips to students. The universities to be visited are the University of West Florida, Florida A&M University, Florida State University, University of North Florida, University of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida (Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses), Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

The week will end with the annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8:30 a.m. at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. Three firefighters who died last year from injuries sustained in the line of duty will be honored.

For more information about fire safety, visit the Department of Insurance web site at and follow the prompts for the Division of State Fire Marshal, or call the Department of Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.