By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With Fire Prevention Week beginning Oct. 4 — fires and the act of preventing them should be a hot topic near the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Steve Swarbrick, assistant Fire Chief and Fire Prevention Officer noted the top three causes of fires in our area is kitchen fires, barbecues and improperly disposed of smoking materials.
“Most people want to know how many house fires we go to annually, but it’s tough because we go to many fires that aren’t house fires such as fire pits and outside fires. We respond to around 300 calls each year and this year we are already at 250. Between two to five per cent of calls fire departments respond to are structure fires. Here in Taber, we go to about three per cent, so 10 to 12 each year, but responses to fire is much higher maybe 15 to 20 per cent.”
Swarbrick also noted that around another 20 per cent of calls in the last 12 months have been to alarms.
“Many of these calls are mistaken referred to as false alarms. Sometimes an alarm may malfunction and just activate, but these are pretty rare. It could be a hot shower or even bug spray, but if someone is cooking and the food burns and sets off the smoke alarm, which in turn calls the fire department, it’s not a false alarm at all. The system did what it was supposed to do; it sensed smoke and activated. If nothing is done, the potential for a working structure fire is high. Thankfully, a lot of the time the homeowner is alerted and shuts it off or is able to air the house out. All alarms are treated as a working fire until confirmed otherwise, and firefighters are always quite relieved to find out it was just the bacon that was burnt.”
Swarbrick states that preventing fires in our homes is a team effort and all residents should be involved. This includes never leaving the stove unattended while cooking, using caution with candles — never leave them unattended either — and always keep combustible material at least one meter from gas appliances such as the stove, water tank and furnace.
“Especially in my position, fire prevention means everything. Some of us are more passionate, but every firefighter believes in it. Kids are great at it, they learn from station tours and school visits and then we encourage them to speak to their families at home, but fire prevention is just as important for adults. Fire is dangerous, devastating and can result in a person or a family’s absolute worst day. If we can prevent even one fire and save a life or limit the damage, it is well worth it.”
“My position in fire prevention is in itself a resource. We conduct fire inspections for all businesses and public buildings within the town of Taber, and this presents us with many opportunities to promote fire safety and fire prevention. There are many things that people, both business owners and the general public don’t think about because it isn’t a part of their world, and these are things that many of them are happy to learn about.”
The Taber Fire Department also has a Fire Prevention & Safety Program that runs in conjunction with the firefighter’s regular job duties but is also supported by many local businesses and service groups.
“This program is the bread and butter of our fire prevention. We are able to provide many educational items and presentations for students, the elderly and other adults to help them learn and understand. We also have the ability to provide fire extinguishers for free almost anytime.”
Swarbrick also mentioned they are extremely proud of their smoke alarm exchange program.
“Smoke alarms expire after 10 years whether they are wired in or battery operated and because of the support of these businesses, groups and our own firefighter association we are able to exchange expired alarms for free. As of now, we have done more than 600 alarms in Taber.”