Firefighter battling house fire

November 24, 2021  
Jim Evancho  

The holiday season is upon us and winter has arrived in Calhoun County increasing the possibilities of residential fires. According to the American Red Cross, there are an average of 47,000 house fires during the winter holidays taking over 500 lives nationwide. Many of these fires can be avoided with proper safety and preparation by the residents and their families. The Calhoun County Journal contacted the fire departments within Calhoun County and spoke to their fire safety staff regarding some of the dangers that residents should watch out for.

Cooking Safety
Fire Marshall, Captain Jason Brown – City of Anniston Fire Department

Capt. Jason Brown is the Fire Marshall for the City of Anniston and wanted to discuss cooking safely. During the Thanksgiving holiday many people are cooking large meals and deep fry turkeys. He wanted to remind everyone to keep all deep fryers outside while frying and to maintain a proper distance away from anything combustible, including the building itself. Children should not be allowed to come within a designated safety area to avoid falling onto the fryer or accidentally tipping it over. Before lowering your dinner into the hot oil be sure that the turkey is completely thawed or it could cause rapid overflowing of the hot oil which can ignite when it hits the open flame under the fryer.

While inside cooking your favorites, the kitchen should not be left unattended. With holidays there is usually a larger than normal guest list which can lead to forgetting something on the stove or even a child grabbing a hot pot or pan and spilling the contents on themselves. If you are hosting a large gathering, please remember to keep visitors, especially children, away from the cooking area to lower chances of injuries or fire.

Captain Brown also stressed that each residence should have properly functioning smoke detectors, with fresh batteries, and also have proper fire extinguishers. He went on to say that a standard ABC fire extinguisher is good to have for the home, but the kitchen should also be equipped with a small Class K fire extinguisher which combats grease, fats, and oil fires. In the event of a fire, Capt. Brown wants to remind everyone to call the fire department immediately, even if the fire has been put out. The fire department has equipment to detect any hidden issues that a resident may miss. No one from the fire department will be angry about responding to a fire that has already been put out.

Space Heaters & Fireplace Safety
Chief Jimmy Fisher – City of Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department

Chief Jimmy Fisher of the Alexandria Fire Department chose to discuss the importance of space heaters and fireplace safety. With the cold season starting here in Alabama, many people are bringing out space heaters to help keep their homes warm. Although modern space heaters are built with more safety features, they should all be treated with respect. Residents should not overload electrical outlets as they can short or cause a fire. Space heaters should not be set up near anything combustible, such as curtains or furniture, and should never be left unattended. Extension cords should not be used unless they are UL rated and designed to carry the amount of current the heater requires. Chief Fisher also recommends completely unplugging any space heaters not in use and to never leave a space heater running when the residence will be completely empty or when family members are going to sleep.

Fireplace safety is often overlooked by many people that enjoy burning a fire over the winter season. It is recommended to have a professional come out to inspect your chimney before you have the first fire of the season. The professional will be able to see how much build-up is in the flue, if there are any obstructions, and will be able to identify dangerous breaks or damage. The Chief further discussed the importance of removing the embers/ashes from the fireplace. It is important to utilize a metal container when removing ashes from the fireplace; there are times where embers can still be smoldering as long as the next day. The ashes should be placed outside and either have water run over them or be allowed to completely extinguish prior to placing them in the trash or used in a vegetated area.

Chief Fisher closed with the reminder that if you do experience a fire and are able to extinguish it quickly to please still call the fire department to come out and inspect the area to ensure the fire is completely out and not still smoldering into another potential fire.

Decorations & Candles
Chief Gary Sparks – City of Oxford Fire Department

Oxford Fire Department Chief Sparks discussed the importance of staying safe with decorations and using candles during the holiday season. A lot of people like to burn scented candles and votive candles during the holidays which can also lead to tragedy if not respected. Chief Sparks explained the importance of candle placement and to be sure that the open flame is not near anything flammable such as curtains in windows, furniture, and decorations that could catch fire. He also recalled one story where a family had burned a “glass type” candle very low but still wanted to use the rest of the wax inside. They placed the glass jar on the stove and attempted to heat it up that way, but it caused the glass to break and the contents to freely run, including the flaming wick. The result was a kitchen fire that could have been much worse. The Chief went on to say that all candles should be extinguished prior to leaving the residence or going to bed to ensure no open flames can cause fires.

The Chief then went on to holiday decorations such as Christmas trees and lighting. If a family chooses to have a real tree inside of their residence, it is important to keep it watered every day. The U.S. Product Safety Commission conducted an experiment on a dry tree and the results were surprising. It took only 1 minute to fully engulf the room with heavy smoke and flames [see video]. Although keeping the tree watered is not a guarantee that a fire can’t happen, it does slow the time it takes to become fully engulfed and allows family members to escape the residence. The other concern that the Chief discussed was lighting. Overloaded electrical outlets can create excessive heat or cause electrical shorts causing fires. If you need to use extension cords the Chief recommends using power strips with a built in breaker that will trip the connection if over used.

If you live in the Oxford Fire Department response area and are in need of smoke detectors please contact station 1 at (256) 831-3208. Chief Sparks said they would come out to your residence and provide free smoke detectors and installation so no one is left unsafe. In his many years of firefighting and prevention, he stated that the “majority of residential fire fatalities were in a place where there were no smoke detectors or an insufficient amount to alert the entire residence.” Chief Sparks also stated that if you do experience a fire to call the fire department even if you believe you have extinguished the fire. They have special equipment that can see if there is anything going on behind the walls or if there is still a fire present. The Chief said they don’t mind coming out and not being needed. For them, it’s about the safety of the people of Oxford.

Overloaded Circuits & Outlets
Chief Brian Bunn – City of Weaver Volunteer Fire Department

The City of Weaver Fire Chief, Brian Bunn, elected to discuss overloaded circuits/outlets & electrical safety. Each year electrical fires increase during the colder months due to holidays, space heaters, earlier sunset, and more indoor activities. Chief Bunn first discussed the use of outdoor lighting for the Christmas season and the importance of maintaining a “safety first” mentality. It is first and foremost important that if you are doing any work on a ladder to make sure there is someone nearby to help if the ladder slips out while you are up. Injuries from falling from a ladder can cause severe injuries and possibly even death. When putting lights up on a residence always be sure never to use anything metal to secure the lights. Staples, nails, or metal clips can create issues if the insulation on the wire becomes frayed and the bare wire comes into contact with the metal attached to your residence. If the wire is able to arch it could cause a fire to the surrounding wood that the structure has been constructed with. It is also important to inspect the entire run of lights to ensure there are no frays or breaks in the insulating on the wires. The Chief also stressed to only use UL listed wiring and to only use lighting strings designed for the outdoors.

When looking around the inside of your residence, you should check all of the outlets to see if they have too many electronics plugged into them. During the holidays we add to the already heavier use of electricity by adding Christmas lights, electronic decorations, space heaters, lamps, and other items. Many people will overload outlets with multiple plugs or insufficient extension cords. If using string lights that can plug into the back of another (piggy-backing) only use the recommended amount of joining (see manufacturer). He also stressed to never run extension cords under rugs or other flammable materials; he recognized that many families are trying to hide the messy cords but it better to see them than have your residence catch fire.

Chief Bunn can be contacted at the Weaver City Hall where his office is located. If you have any non-emergency questions please feel free to contact him and he will address your concerns or questions.

Fire Safety/Planning & Compartmentalization
Fire Marshall, Captain Chris Collins – City of Jacksonville Fire Department

Captain Chris Collins is the Fire Marshall for the City of Jacksonville and also a retired Fire Chief from the City of Anniston. Capt. Collins chose to discuss fire safety/planning and how to compartmentalize your residence in case of fire. The first topic he discussed was making sure that every family has an active fire escape plan in place and that it has been practiced by each family member. It is important to identify each escape route from every room. For example the child bedroom may have a side window as well as through a hall. It is important for every member to know where all escape zones are located. If a child can’t get out of their window or go to the end of a hall they may be able to use the parents’ bedroom to escape. If your home has security bars on the windows be sure that they are equipped with an emergency release that can be activated from inside the house. Designate a meeting location outside after everyone is evacuated; places like the neighbor’s house, mailbox, light post, or stop sign work well and everyone can be accounted for. Just be sure it’s a safe distance from the residence. When setting up your escape plan, look to see if your house number is easily seen from the street. Many local groups will also come out to paint your house number, in reflective paint, on the curbside of the road making it easier for first responders to find you. When the fire escape plan is in place and every member knows it, the plan should be practiced at least twice per year to make sure it is clearly understood. The time to have questions is not when there is an actual emergency. One of the most important, and difficult, parts of the plan to adhere to is: once you’re out, stay out! The fire department is better equipped and highly trained to enter a burning building and search for people that may be inside.

The next topic that Capt. Collins addressed was something called compartmentalization. Compartmentalizing a residence is an easy way to slow the spread of fire and smoke by simply closing all the interior doors of the residence. If a fire were to start in the living room the smoke would enter the bedrooms at a much slower rate allowing the occupants more time to escape. Compartmenting should always be done when the residence is going to be empty for any period of time or when everyone is going to sleep. If an unoccupied residence has a fire there is a stronger chance that neighbors or people passing by may see smoke from the residence before the entire residence is lost before the fire department can respond. Capt. Collins also said that it takes a lot of conditioning to remember to always keep the residence safe by compartmentalization but it is a habit that everyone should learn to do.

Capt. Collins also wanted to make sure Jacksonville residents know to contact him if they are in need of smoke detectors. The Calhoun County Journal recently released an article on this service [see article]. He also went on to say that a good fire plan is just as important as working smoke detectors, so be sure to change batteries and practice the plan.

It is the goal of each of the fire departments that operate in Calhoun County to make their residents and businesses safe from the destruction of fire. Firefighters are prepared to come to your aid when you need them, but they would prefer that you take all the precautions to avoid a fire altogether and just enjoy your holiday. Please remember that although you may be celebrating a holiday, the fire departments are always open and prepared to respond to your emergency calls. From the Calhoun County Journal we hope that everyone enjoys the holiday safely.

Calhoun County Journal Logo


Hooligan Harley Davidson in Oxford