Picking weeds, cleaning the garage and dusting the attic or basement may not sound as appealing as flip flops and a spatula in front of a meat-laden barbeque, but overlooking your spring cleaning duties can be dangerous. While actively educating the public on multiple levels, the Sparks Fire Department has been conducting public outreach to help prevent hazardous situations in households this spring.
Fire Marshal and Public Information Officer Bob King said Tuesday “consistency” is key to ensuring the public is aware of the dangers of neglecting spring cleaning. Clutter and calamity, according to King, are common themes to homes devastated by past fires.
“One of the big things we see is a lot of clutter when we arrive at fires for residential homes that have been significantly impacted,” King said. “Garages are terrible for that. We seem to fill up our garages with junk and other stuff and it keeps piling up. This is a great time of year to tell people to go out, clean things up, put flammables away, check out extension cords for fraying and those types of things.”
King said weeds pose a problem as spring and summer approach, not only as a blemish to a yard’s beauty, but weeds growing outside a fenced yard offer a major threat to fire damage. He said no weed burning is allowed within Sparks and added that clearing weeds outside your fence or property could help save your property from damage.
“The majority of the city of Sparks is within a hydrographic basin and it’s more ran by the Air Quality Control,” he said. “Because it is an urban area, it is more condensed. So it is much more dangerous to have burn barrels in your yard than other places, especially with our winds that come up out of nowhere.
“With our reduction of personnel at the city over the last five years, we cannot get out and enforce as much as before, so we are asking the public to help out. If you have fences that back up to a field, just go out with a weed whacker and clear back 10 feet at least -- we would like to have 30 feet -- and that will help keep the fire from spreading to their fence and trees and yard quickly. It helps citizens, really, because it might take a half hour for them to go out and do that. But a half hour compared to your fence, or trees or deck or house is worth it.”
King said in rare cases, such as agriculture fields of two acres or more, burning will be allowed and SFD and City of Sparks burn weeds near drainage ditches in the city. King also said Washoe County is holding multiple “dump days” for people looking to get rid of troublesome household items such as tires, oil or appliances. Helpful websites such as www.livingwithfire.info and www.ktmb.org have tips and information on how to prepare any house for potential fire and where to dispose of any items being cleaned from storage this spring.
Another major component of spring and summer preparedness is properly working smoke alarms, according to King. He said smoke alarms are the “first defense” for exiting a house fire, which is why SFD began Project SAFE in 2007, a program designed to educate the public on the importance of smoke alarms in every room and to equip residents with 10-year certified smoke alarms.
King noted that a double fatality fire a few years ago, killing two teenage girls from smoke inhalation, triggered a survey of homes in the area, which found 71 percent of smoke alarms didn’t work, 47 percent were more than 10 years old and 94 percent of homes didn’t have them in bedrooms -- likely the case for the girls’ fatalities.
“That’s the thing, people don’t think about it until we get out there and remind them. That’s what started this whole program,” King said. “It has been such a neat program because everyone is really helping out. Every time we get the word out, we all of the sudden start getting calls.”
After two years of public education, Project SAFE was awarded its first grant funding in 2010 of more than $32,000, which then jumped to $57,000 and $55,000 in the following two years, respectively, for the purchase of thousands of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, 10-year lithium batteries and tools to complete home installations.
More than 1,800 smoke alarms and more than 300 carbon monoxide detectors have been installed in Sparks homes since the program’s inception. King said the help of local stores like Wal Mart and Home Depot with grant and smoke alarm donations -- and a fundraising golf tournament in the summer --the program is now stocked with smoke alarms for local residents.
“Right now I have 3,500 smoke alarms sitting ready to install,” In 2012, Home Depot donated 2,500 smoke alarms to us after winning a contest through their organization as one of 10 stores in the United States to sell the most smoke alarms. We have a ton right now and that is why we are trying to let people know that we want to be out there installing them.”
The Sparks Fire Department has six teams hitting the streets Saturday with eight home installations per team for fire alarms. The next big installation day is May 18 and residents are encouraged to call and set up an appointment with SFD.