South Bend Fire Department provides refresher on fire prevention

Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 7:32 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - South Bend has seen a slight uptick in fires over the past couple of months, and with the grilling season right around the corner, the South Bend Fire Department wants to give folks a refresher on home fire safety and prevention.

Like medical care, firefighters say the best way to treat a fire is to prevent it from happening in the first place, and that’s what the SBFD is aiming to do.

“There are simple things that everyone can do to be safe when it comes to fire prevention,” says Gerard Ellis, Assistant Chief of Fire Prevention for the South Bend Fire Department. “Obviously, matches and lighters are not toys for kids; they are tools for adults. They are needed, but then something as simple as that can cause a burn, so we always tell people never to hesitate to call 911 and have our crews come out and check them out. Whether or not you need to be treated and transported but let us determine that.”

With summer fast approaching, the South Bend Fire Department wants to ensure South Bend families have the tools and knowledge to protect themselves against potential disasters.

“Smoke alarms, test those batteries,” Ellis said. “We have a free smoke alarm program for the residents of the city of South Bend. We’ll come out and install two to three smoke alarms in the home. We use a 10-year lithium battery on our alarms, so you don’t have to worry about changing that battery.”

Barbeques might be the perfect summer get-together, but there is potential danger anytime fire is present.

“With grills, now is a good time to get out there and inspect it, get it cleaned up before you actually use it, check that LP tank, or maybe you’re tied into natural gas into your house,” Ellis said. “Have that inspected and checked out, and then inside the house, having that home escape plan is a key point to families in South Bend.”

Fire extinguishers can make a difference when suppressing fire, but only if used properly.

“If you think about it, say you’re outside with a campfire, and the wood is burning, but the flame is three to four feet high,” Ellis said. “If you take that extinguisher and you’re aiming it at the flame, there’s enough pressure in that extinguisher, so it’s just going to shoot through the flame, so you want to take that product so it coats whatever that fuel source is, and it’s going to suffocate that fuel source, separate it from the oxygen, and put that fire out, so you do aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire.”

And all these reminders are meant to do one thing; to keep South Bend residents safe.

“And we never want to see anyone get injured; we never want to see a fatality,” Ellis said. “We know it can happen, but if families have an escape plan, if they talk about this with their kids, even the adults need to be reminded of what to do if a fire or smoke occurs. But having that escape plan, getting outside, having a place to go; go to your neighbor’s house, definitely call 911, but getting outside is the best thing that somebody can do.”

With weather fluctuations and temperatures dropping at night, people might use space heaters. Firefighters tell us that those heaters should be plugged directly into the wall and not an extension cord to prevent possible fire and electrical shock.

“Like right now, we still have that change in the weather pattern; it’s still kind of cold,” Ellis said. “For people using space heaters, you have to plug those heaters directly into the wall, do not use an extension cord with a space heater. If you’re using alternative methods to heat your home, it’s not a good thing, but we know people are going to use space heaters. We never want to use our oven to heat our home. If you have issues with your furnace, call a technician to look at that. And then when it does get warmer, obviously furnaces are going to be used less, but you should always have your furnace checked out.”

Outdoor grills and burn pits should be at a safe distance away from any structure, fencing, and vegetation like trees, bushes, and shrubbery.

“Well, if you’re starting to look, especially in the city, you have burn pits outside, houses are closer together, garages, yards, shrubbery, so we want to make sure that’s an improved style of burn pit,” Ellis said. “Even inside the house, if you’re cooking, or grilling outside, make sure that grill is a safe distance from your structure as well; maybe check that propane tank if you’re using LP gas or something like that, and even charcoal with lighter fluid, there are some dangers there as well. Even your deck, depending on what your grill is like if you’re using a charcoal grill or LP gas Liquified petroleum). We do want to keep that at a safe distance from the house, and there are some safety precautions that the person can take; wear some gloves and make sure your kids aren’t next to the grill. We don’t need the kids out there grilling; just leave it up to the adults.”

SBFD wants to remind residents to be mindful and prepared, which means having a plan in place in case of fire, seeing and removing potential hazards, and having fresh batteries in smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher at the ready.

“I would say people should have one, a smoke alarm because that will be your first line of defense to alert you if there is smoke or fire in your house,” Ellis said. “Two, having an extinguisher in your house, but an extinguisher only works when somebody is properly trained to use it. But three, the best thing you can do is get outside. Property is replaceable, but if you do have smoke or fire in your house, we want to get outside, call 911 as quickly as possible, and let the firefighters do what they do well, but an extinguisher, they do work, but you want to make sure you know how to use it as well.”

They encourage you to contact them if you have questions or want to participate in South Bend Fire Prevention Programs.

“And if anyone has any questions in the city or even the area, if you live in the county and call here, we know all the other county fire departments; we’ll direct you in the right direction, but if you have a question and you want to call and talk to somebody, we do tour for families, for schools and stuff like that, but we touch base on all these key points so hopefully all the families walk away and know a little bit more,” Ellis said. “And again, hopefully, the adults walk away, and it’s just kind of a refresher for the adults. Sometimes we think we know it all, but It’s nice to have that refresher and then take it home and practice it in the home.”

To contact the SBFD, click the link at the top of this story or call (574) 235-9255.

“Never hesitate to call 911,” Ellis said. “Even if your alarm goes off and the fire is out, have us come out and take a look at it. Whether it’s a fire or a medical emergency, we’re here 24/7. That way, we can take a look and assess the situation.”