Kudos to my colleague Karen Schultz, Executive Director of the Willamette Chapter in Salem. Karen’s getting the word out about preventing house fires through this op-ed in today’s StatesmanJournal.
Learn more, be aware to prevent house fires
October 27, 2008
Major disasters such as Hurricane Ike receive a great deal of media attention, yet four out of five Americans don’t realize the most common disaster threat is not hurricanes or floods — it’s home fires. In fact, each year, more than 93 percent of the 74,000 disasters the American Red Cross responds to nationally are fire-related.
Here in Oregon, the American Red Cross responds to a fire approximately every 12 hours, and volunteers are on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week to help meet housing, food and medication needs for those who have lost everything. In Marion and Polk counties, the Willamette Chapter responded to 70 disasters last year, helping 99 families get started on the road to recovery.
For a family made homeless by a house fire, their disaster is every bit as devastating as a hurricane of Ike’s size. Although we can’t prevent a hurricane, we can and must try to prevent home fires.
House fires are caused by a number of factors, most of which are preventable. Part of our mission is to help people prevent fires. The Red Cross recently partnered with the National Fire Protection Association to conduct a survey as part of that effort.
The survey revealed that the majority of Americans (79 percent to be exact) are concerned about the rising cost of heating their homes. Forty-eight percent of those who are concerned stated they will use an alternative heating source to reduce their bills this winter. Alternative heating sources include portable space heaters, stoves, ovens and fireplaces.
I can’t begin to count the number of house fires we have responded to that were caused by alternative heat sources in my 10-plus years with the chapter. What I do know is that almost all of those fires were
preventable. With an economic crisis looming on the horizon, I fear that more people will turn to alternative heat sources as a cost saving measure, which can result in disaster.
In Marion and Polk counties, we have seen a steady increase in our house-fire responses during the past three years. This past year, our local disaster relief fund was depleted in the first six months of our fiscal year, creating a frightening fundraising challenge. Given the severe economic downturn this year, we are very concerned about our ability to keep pace with the needs of our community members. I urge all families to learn more about fire prevention. Please take some time to learn more about keeping your family safe from fire. Fire safety tips are readily available at redcross.org/homefires or firepreventionweek.org.
The time to prevent a disaster from affecting your family is now. If the worst should happen and your family should experience a disaster, please know we will be there to help, just as we have done in our local community for 91 years.
Karen Schultz is the Willamette Chapter executive director of the American Red Cross.