Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Could just One More Sentence save lives?

From "Adopt-A-Hydrant" flyer,
Des Plaines, IL FD
   So far this winter we've all been subjected to massive coverage of snow storms around the country, partly because it's news but partly because such 24/7 coverage has proven to increase both viewership and advertising opportunities for broadcasters. Of a more local staple for news media are residential fires that result in a tragic loss of life. It seems that with both of these important stories, what is often missing is just one more sentence. Just one additional statement that could possibly help save lives but is often omitted.
   The most recent east coast "snow-maggedon" displayed the expected footage of folks shoveling snow, plows slicing away at snow buildup on streets and roads, aerial footage of highway backups and endless radar evaluations. Reporters made snowballs, jammed yardsticks into the snow and alternated between footage of snow blowers and kids sliding down hills in plastic saucers. On one national network, the studio anchor actually convinced a somewhat hesitant field reporter to fall back in the snow and demonstrate for America the fine art of making snow angels.
   What was disturbingly missing from these reports, however, was that One More Sentence. Something like, "And please be sure to keep neighborhood fire hydrants free of snow and accessible to first responders."  While many local news outlets team up with the local fire department and show how buried hydrants can delay a fire response, the national news seemed to be more interested in frolicking in the snow. It only takes a few seconds to say, but hopefully some listeners will think a bit after clearing their own sidewalks or driveways and clear the snow away from a nearby neighborhood hydrant buried by passing plows. It takes time for responding firefighters to dig out a hydrant, and even more time if they can’t locate one buried in mounds of snow and ice plowed up from the street.
   The other One More Sentence deficit in the both national and local news is the one that should conclude every report of a residential fire fatality where it applies. That would be, "Fire officials report that there were no functioning smoke alarms present.”
   In my 26 years as a career firefighter, I can't recall a single fatality or serious injury in a home that was protected by a working smoke detector. There may have been some, but I suspect those incidents are extremely rare. I'd expect that it would be one of the first questions from a reporter since most such fatalities are due to smoke inhalation.  The piercing shrill of an activated smoke detector has proven to be a tremendous life saving device providing warning enough to escape and help others get out as well. Where there are no such detectors, the news accounts usually include the family member or neighbor telling how, "I just couldn't get past the smoke and flames," to help those inside.
   Smoke detectors would seem to be a no brainer to most folks, and having the security of an easily spotted and accessible fire hydrant near your home would also seem to be important during a snowstorm. But we're all victims of differing priorities and distractions, and this does seem to be the era of short attention spans.
   All the more reason that news coverage could help save some lives, I believe, by providing a quick reminder about buried hydrants and having a working smoke detector by adding that crucial and possibly life saving One More Sentence.