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Here it is another year and another Fire Prevention Week. I won't bore you with yet another trip down memory lane about why fire prevention exists. Come on by the fire station and one of our inspectors will gladly retell the tale.

My concern is for all of you who live, work and participate in activities on Fort Meade: stay fire safe wherever you live.

In my 31 years as a military and federal firefighter, the cause of home fires remained the same. Almost all were the result of human error. The main reason we lost facilities -- and more importantly, members -- was the result of doing something that was not fire safe.

Whether it was overloading circuits, smoking in bed or the most frequent cause -- unattended cooking -- the excuse was always, "I didn't think it would happen to me," or in the case of unattended cooking, "I forgot the oven was on. I was only away from the burner for a minute!"

So, in keeping with this year's National Fire Protection Association theme, "Prevent Home Fires," let's keep this simple:

* If you leave the kitchen, shut the stove burners off.

* And if you leave your home (yes, that includes a 10-minute trip outside, too), turn the oven off.

It's also a good idea to turn off your dryer, but that will be another thing to remember. So please stick with the burners and stove, on any of those two occasions.

We would be remiss if we didn't include the following information from the National Fire Prevention Association:

Smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing deaths and injuries from fire, and have contributed to the almost 50 percent-decrease in fire deaths since the late 1970s. It is estimated that 95 percent of United States homes have at least one smoke alarm.

Sixty-five percent of reported home fire deaths occurred in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms save lives and protect against injury and loss due to fire.

Facts & figures

* A 2004 telephone survey found that 96 percent of U.S. households had at least one smoke alarm, yet between 2000 and 2004, no smoke alarms were present or none operated in almost half (46 percent) of the reported home fires.

* 65 percent of reported home fire deaths between 2000 and 2004 resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms..

* The fire-death rate in homes with working smoke alarms is 51 percent less than the rate for homes without this protection.

* In one out of every five homes equipped with at least one smoke alarm installed, not a single one was working.

* Why do smoke alarms fail? Most often because of missing, disconnected or dead batteries. Nuisance activations were the leading cause of disabled smoke alarms.

Safety Tips

* Test your smoke alarms once a month, following the manufacturer's instructions.

* Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm once a year or as soon as the alarm "chirps" a warning that the battery is low.

* Never "borrow" a battery from a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms can't warn you of fire if their batteries are missing or have been disconnected.

* Don't disable smoke alarms -- even temporarily. If your smoke alarm is sounding "nuisance alarms," try relocating it farther from kitchens or bathrooms, where cooking fumes and steam can cause the alarm to sound.

* Regularly vacuuming or dusting your smoke alarms, following the manufacturer's instructions, can keep them working properly.

* Smoke alarms don't last forever. Replace yours once every 10 years. If you can't remember how old the alarm is, then it's probably time for a new one.

* Plan regular fire drills to ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do when the smoke alarm sounds. Hold a drill at night to make sure that sleeping family members awaken at the sound of the alarm. Some studies have shown that some children may not awaken to the sound of the smoke alarm. Know what your child will do before a fire occurs.

* If you are building a new home or remodeling your existing home, consider installing an automatic, home fire sprinkler system. Sprinklers and smoke alarms together cut your risk of dying in a home fire by 82 percent relative to having neither -- a savings of thousands of lives a year.

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