By Caitlin Switzer
REGIONAL—(February 18, 2014) When a local family tried to heat a pet cage in an upstairs area earlier this winter, the fire that resulted almost destroyed their entire home. Though the quick response of Montrose firefighters ensured that no human lives were lost, the experience was devastating for all involved—especially the pets whose cages were being warmed.
“I don’t know if they survived,” Montrose Fire Chief Dale Erickson said, who emphasizes the importance of fire safety measures throughout the year.
“Fire prevention is fairly seasonal,” Erickson said. “In spring we have open burning, and the start of wildfire season. Near the Fourth of July we worry about fireworks, and around the holidays we see fires started by candles, paper and other things. This time of year, we see heating fires.”
A heating fire was the cause when a longtime local family in Delta lost everything last month. A wood stove caught fire while the occupants were at work, a tragedy that left them homeless.
Your first line of defense, at any season, includes working smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors, Erickson noted.
Joining Erickson in the work of promoting public awareness of fire safety is longtime Montrose firefighter Mark Bray, a 23-year veteran of the department. Bray is now stepping into the role of outreach as Fire Prevention Specialist.
“At the beginning of the winter season, have your chimney or flu inspected,” Bray said. “Creosote can build up, and help propagate fires. Over time, fire can damage the metal or linings of pipes, and get into the attic or walls.”
“We recommend having your chimney cleaned every month,” Erickson said, adding that proper maintenance can keep you and your family safe. “The key is maintenance before and during the season.”
Even gas log fireplaces can cause fires if neglected, Bray said.
“Be sure to have them cleaned, and make sure the material doesn’t degrade,” he said. “If you have a forced air heating system, have it serviced before the season starts, in case your heat exchanger has cracked.”
The Montrose Fire Protection District saw 178 fire calls in 2012, and averages one or two each month.
“When we look at the statistics for 2012, eight or ten of those fires were caused by heating,” Bray said. “Electric and space heaters can be dangerous—we had one last week that destroyed an RV.”
While all heaters are safe if used according to manufacturers’ instructions, take care to keep draperies and other sources of combustion away from heat sources, Erickson said.
“Educate yourself, and heat properly,” he said. “People don’t realize how destructive fire is. In the case of a flood, wet things can be dried…but fire destroys everything you have.”
Erickson, who has been with the Montrose Fire Protection District for 35 years, can recall when the Department had six full-time staffers and the rest volunteers. Today, the Department has six volunteers, 35 full-time firefighters, and ten reserve firefighters. The Department also now encompasses Emergency Services.
One thing that has not changed is the fierce dedication of those who give their time and energy to firefighting.
“This country was founded on volunteer fire departments,” Erickson said, “so many of them are truly top-notch. In today’s economy it can be hard to get people to volunteer, which is why we transitioned to a full-time Fire Department with a full-service ambulance as well. The educational requirements are rigorous, and our volunteers have to be pretty doggone dedicated.”
Educating the public is also an essential part of the job.
“Check your smoke detectors, and make sure your CO Monitor has not expired,” he said. “Replace the batteries twice a year, and replace the detector every ten years.”
As Mark Bray prepares to step into his new role as Fire Prevention Specialist, he acknowledged the challenges that come with the job, and the rewards.
“I have a lot to learn,” he said. “I am going to set up inspection schedules, and plan reviews.
“It’s rewarding to help people,” he said.