September 25, 2013 – Pam Elliott, Common Voices advocate, joined U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell this week in Washington, D.C. for the national launch of Fire Is Everyone’s Fight™.
Each year in the United States, 82 percent of fire deaths and 76 percent of all fire injuries occur in the home — the very place where we should feel most safe. Most of these fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms, and a significant portion of the fire injuries occur when people are cooking. In response to this information, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) is introducing Fire is Everyone’s FightTM. This is a national initiative uniting the USFA and its partners and supporters in encouraging everyone to take steps to protect themselves and those they love from home fires.
The good news is that there are simple steps everyone can take to dramatically reduce the risk of a home fire. Since cooking is the leading cause of home fires and injuries, practice safe cooking. Stand by your pan, and keep an eye on what you fry. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and outside each sleeping area. Test your alarms every month, and replace the entire alarm every 10 years. And for the best protection against fire, install a fire sprinkler system in your home.
We protect our businesses from fire with sprinkler systems so why not our homes? A smoke alarm is a vital safety device that will alert the occupants to the fire, and residential sprinklers can actually contain the fire. The installation of home fire sprinkler systems has the potential to save thousands of lives, prevent a large portion of injuries, and eliminate thousands of dollars in property loss.
We would like to share word for word Pam’s remarks to support the Fire Is Everyone’s Fight™ initiative.
My family has always insisted that the tragedy of our home burning happened for a purpose. I believe that part of my purpose is to be here today to share my story.
One day I was a five year-old girl making mud pies on the creek bank. The next day I lay in a hospital bed, not expected to live. Our two-story country frame had burned to the ground. Every 2.5 hours someone dies is a house fire and every 74 seconds a home burns in America.
I received third degree burns over 50% of my body. When skin burns it shrinks…like frying bacon. Skin grafting involves peeling skin off where you are not burned and putting it on the burned places so they will heal. It is almost as painful as the burns.
Initially, I was in the hospital for three months. I was at home for four months then back for a nine-month stay. 3-6 month hospital visits continued until I was 16. My face had to be grafted. My arms and hands had to be grafted and straightened to provide function. It was an arduous process involving hand braces, pins and multiple scar releases. I do not have any end joints. One of my fingers is stiff and another one is crooked. I am extremely fortunate to have fingers…a lot of burn survivors do not.
When your home burns to the ground, there is nothing left. No clothes, no furniture, no pictures, no precious quilts that your grandmother made. The only pictures we have now are those that family members and friends gave back to us.
I remember looking in the mirror one night before going to bed asking God to take the scars off my face. I am not asking You to take them off anywhere else. I know You can do it so, when I wake up in the morning I know they will be gone.” The next morning I rushed to the bathroom mirror to discover that the scars were not gone. I was so disappointed: “God, I know You could do it, but You didn’t. The scars were not gone but I still had to go on.
These scars would not be allowed to define me. Throughout my school years, none of my classmates ever made fun of me or called me names. The only person to hurt me with words was an adult.
I applied to college to become a physician’s assistant. The college required an interview with the board of admissions. Three of the board members had voted against me. They informed me that people naturally have a fear of doctors and, since I would initially be meeting patients to obtain their health history, they felt my physical appearance would instill a deeper fear within the patient.
I have been a nurse for 30 years at WFBH and no patient has ever complained about my appearance.
I hope you understand after hearing a little of my story why I believe in fire safety and particularly home fire safety. It is vital that our homes have working smoke alarms and a practiced fire escape plan. I also believe that home fire sprinklers add the extra protection we need to save lives, protect our homes and decrease horrific burn injuries.
Smoke alarms cannot contain or extinguish a fire. They are designed to detect. In less time than it takes for the fire department to arrive on the scene home fire sprinklers can contain and even extinguish a fire.
When combined with smoke alarms, home fire sprinklers increase chances of surviving a fire by more than 82%. I like that percentage don’t you? They also provide extra time for children, the elderly, the disabled, and the physically, mentally challenged to escape by keeping fire and deadly smoke from spreading. These people are the most vulnerable in a fire because fires become deadly in as little as three minutes. Three minutes… that is not a lot of time. In the 70’s you had 17-23 minutes to get out of a house. Today it is 3- 3.5 minutes. It is because the contents of our homes are more combustible. Every 2.5 hours someone dies in a house fire. Every 74 seconds a home burns.
Fire sprinklers also keep our firefighters safe.
Fire sprinklers also decrease fire damage by up to 97%! I like that percentage even more. That is why insurance companies offer 13-30% discounts on sprinklered homes.
Last but certainly not least fire sprinklers decrease horrific burn injuries. You have heard my story but compared to other burn survivors mine is really not that bad.
Thomas Jefferson said, “America is not governed by the majority but by the majority that participate.” Fire is everyone’s fight! We need homebuilders, insurance companies, city councils, state legislatures and the federal government to realize America’s homes are burning and we can do something about it! By combining smoke alarms, a practiced fire escape plan and installing home fire sprinklers we can reduce fire deaths by 82% and fire damage by 97%. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It has been 54 years since my injury and we need a lot more prevention!! It is time to fight to reduce home fires because fire is everyone’s fight.
We all have a role in keeping our families safe from fire. For more information on Fire is Everyone’s Fight and staying safe from fire, please visit www.usfa.fema.gov/fireisevery onesfight. For more information on Common Voices, please visit www.fireadvocates.org .