Local chief shares fire prevention tips

Tips for identifying fire hazards, prevention strategies and fire-risk mitigation were just a few of the topics covered during the fire-safety awareness presentation at the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce's monthly lunch meeting.

Delivered by Snohomish County Fire District No. 5 Chief Merlin Halverson, the presentation took place on April 1 at Sultan City Hall. Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce Board President Brian Copple, who also serves as one of the District No. 5 fire commissioners, introduced Halverson and provided some general background information about the district.

Selecting a chief

District No. 5 covers 72 square miles in and around the Sultan region, extending west approximately halfway to Monroe and east approximately halfway to Gold Bar. The district, which employs five full-time firefighters/EMTs and 32 part-time staff, responds to approximately 1,100 calls per year. In addition to structural firefighting, the district does wildland firefighting, emergency medical assistance, swift water rescue, vehicle extractions, public outreach, CPR classes and hazardous material services.-á -á

Prior to becoming an official fire district in the early 1990s, it was known as the Sultan Fire Department.-á

Halverson, who has served as the fire chief in Sultan for 17 years, has a total of 43 years in the fire service. The district, Copple explained, is lucky to have him. -á

"He is known all over the state for his leadership skills and for just being a fine fire officer,GÇ¥ Brian said.

In addition to serving as the fire chief in Sultan, Halverson is the president of the Snohomish County Fire Chiefs Association and the chair of the Department of Emergency Management Advisory Board Committee. He spent 12 years on the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Public Advisory Committee and served on the Housing and Homeless Policy Oversight Committee for Snohomish County.

Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbie Copple was on the committee responsible for selecting Sultan's new fire chief 17 years ago. The committee had been interviewing candidates all day by the time they got to Halverson, who was with the Lynnwood Fire Department at the time. Copple recalled that they had immediate consensus that Halverson was the right person for the job.-á

"We made an excellent choice. Merlin's been a good chief,GÇ¥ Debbie said. "He is fiscally responsible, cares about the health and safety of this community, and he cares about his people. He's just done a great job for the community.GÇ¥ -á

Halverson began his presentation with an overview of his role as the fire chief and talked about some of the challenges the fire service faces when responding to calls. He gave accolades to the community for being so supportive of his agency, and gave kudos to all of the Sky Valley fire service agencies as a whole.-á -á -á

"We have a great fire service GÇô not only at Fire District [No.] 5, but up and down this valley. Each of the fire districts is different, and each is great in its own way,GÇ¥ Halverson said. "We are very fortunate, I think, to be so well served in this area by the fire service.GÇ¥

Fire safety

Next, he talked about some of the fires typically seen by the department and outlined a few safety guidelines.-á

Electrical fires, Halverson explained, have replaced smoking-related fires as the most typical cause of fire in the home. Any time you have an electrical connection ' whether an outlet, an appliance with a heating element or a motorized piece of equipment like a garbage disposal ' there is an associated fire risk. Furniture GÇô especially beds GÇô should always be kept away from electrical outlets, particularly if the outlet is in use.-á

Both electrical outlets and electrical appliances should be well-maintained, because, when non-functioning, these items can become a fire hazard. When the fire department is called by homeowners to investigate burning smells of an indeterminate source, this is one of the first things that Halvorson will check.-á

"The first thing I ask people when I come for these odors is, "What isn't working? Is there something in your house that isn't working?' If there is, that's a good place to start,GÇ¥ Halverson said.

When dealing with an indeterminate odor, it can also be beneficial to close all windows and doors to isolate where the odor might be coming from. This might seem counterintuitive to homeowners whose instinct is to air out the place.-á

Defective power outlets should be promptly repaired, and outlets should be routinely checked for discoloration and heat. While electrical appliances may generate some heat, outlets and power cords should never be hot to the touch.

The district uses a Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) to look for areas in the home that might be generating more heat than normal. TICs can locate hotspots behind walls or in floors that might not be visible to the naked eye.

"If you have things that aren't working, check them out. If something's hot, check it out. If you have an odor, close it up, and figure out where the odor's coming from,GÇ¥ Halverson said. "And if you're really worried about it, call the fire district and let us come out and take a look at it.GÇ¥

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), dryers, lighting equipment and portable space heaters account for a significant percentage of electrical fires in the United States. Improperly used appliances can also be problematic, Halverson said. Hot plates, for example, should never be used as a source of heat.-á

And clothing dryers should never be left running at night. -á

Cooking fires are also very common. The NFPA estimates that roughly two out of every five home fires started in the kitchen. Kitchen appliances should always be kept unplugged when not in use, and ovens should never be set to "clean modeGÇ¥ and left on overnight. -á -á

Fire detection-á

Halverson recommended always making sure that there are working smoke detectors in the home. Ideally, the smoke detectors should interact, so that if one is set off, the rest are set off as well. The NFPA estimates that working smoke alarms cut the risk of fatality in reported home fires by 50 percent.

Chimney fires and roof fires are also relatively common and can be extremely dangerous, particularly during inclement weather and windy conditions. These types of fires can be exceptionally hazardous to home occupants, who often don't realize right away that their house is on fire. Recently, the district responded to a home structure fire near downtown Sultan in which the homeowner came outside at 5:30 a.m. to go to work and discovered his house was on fire.

Roof fires are exceptionally hazardous to firefighters. as well.

"There's only one way to fight a roof fire, and that's to get on the roof,GÇ¥ Halverson said.

To help prevent chimney fires, chimneys should be regularly maintained. Make sure that metal chimneys are constructed out of the appropriate, triple-wall chimney pipe, and examine them regularly for holes. It is also good to examine the area where the chimney attaches to the home carefully for signs of discoloration. If fire is used in the home as a source of heat, keep an ear out for unusual popping noises, which could be indicative of a problem.-á

For more information, visit www.snofire5.org.


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