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A Cause for Alarm: Fire departments provide smoke detectors amid rise in fatalities

Out of Georgia's 159 counties, Bartow ranked among the highest in terms of fire fatalities last year. Recording six, Bartow tied Fulton and trailed only behind Gwinnett's and Chatham's postings of eight.

"It's very concerning when you hear [this] kind of statistic and even more when it's in your own county," said Bartow County Fire Department Sgt. Jody Jamison, who also serves as the fire safety education coordinator. "We at Bartow County Fire Department take fire safety education very seriously for this very reason. Our ultimate goal is to have zero fire fatalities in Bartow County.

"A majority of fire fatalities nationwide did not have a working smoke [alarm]. However, to our knowledge, some of the fire fatalities in Bartow County did have working smoke alarms. Of the six fire fatalities in Bartow County in 2017, two of them were the result of outside burning or a vehicle fire and the other four were in two separate structure fires."

Underscoring the need for more than one smoke alarm in each structure, Jamison shared the story of a residential fire in Kingston Dec. 29, 2017, where two adult brothers — Scottie and Jeffrey Croy — died at the scene from smoke inhalation and their mother, Glenda Croy, perished later.

"In a single residential structure fire, three [residents] were killed as the result of the fire," Jamison said. "Two individuals were unable to escape due to smoke inhalation and one family member died as a result of returning to the structure after escaping to attempt to rescue the two family members that were missing.

"In that case, the family did have one working smoke alarm, but it was remote to where the fire started and possibly delayed notification of the fire while the family was sleeping. A house should have more than one smoke alarm located according to the manufacturer's recommendations."

With daylight saving time kicking off this weekend, fire officials are advising area residents to change their smoke alarm batteries and make sure the device is working correctly. On Sunday at 2 a.m., time will "spring forward" as people set their clocks ahead one hour.

“The annual change to daylight saving time is the perfect opportunity to make sure your smoke alarms are working properly,” Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens stated in a news release. “Changing the batteries in each device is the easiest way to ensure continued protection of your family and property.”

The release reported 89 of the 94 residential fires in Georgia last year were in homes without working smoke alarms. This year, from Jan. 1 to March 5, 21 residential fires — in homes without viable smoke alarms — have resulted in the deaths of 25 Georgians.

"Smoke alarms are very critical in the early detection of a fire in your home and could mean the difference in life and death," Jamison said. "A majority of the fire fatalities are due to not having working smoke alarms or not having a smoke alarm. By having a working smoke alarm, it may allow a family the precious, but limited, time needed to escape. Just by having a smoke alarm is the first key step to your family's safety. Older smoke alarms require batteries to be changed every spring and fall due to the possibility of a malfunctioning battery.

"Some alarms may need to be checked more often. However, with the new smoke alarms, the batteries only have to be changed every 10 years. We recommend replacing those and all smoke alarms every 10 years. Hard-wired alarms are wired to the electricity in your home. The battery in these alarms are used as a back up in case you ever lose power. These batteries are often forgotten to be replaced due to people thinking the electricity is the only power source."

To help keep residents in their coverage areas safe, Bartow and Cartersville fire departments both — when requested — furnish two complimentary smoke alarms per household. Bartow's devices are specifically for financially-struggling residents.

"Cartersville Fire Department has a smoke alarm program, and we will provide homeowners in the city limits of Cartersville with up to two smoke alarms to provide a minimum level of protection," said Chief Mark Hathaway, fire marshal for the Cartersville Fire Prevention Division. "Smoke alarms are recommended outside of sleeping areas, in bedrooms and in living areas with at least one on each level of the home. They are not recommended in kitchens due to high incidence of false alarms that lead to the possibility of removing the batteries, instead they can be installed just outside of the kitchen.

"Residential fire sprinklers in conjunction with working smoke alarms and a home fire escape plan are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association to provide the greatest level of protection for your family. Be sure and know two ways out of every room, how to crawl low under smoke and where everyone is to meet once you escape. Discuss your escape plan with all members of the household and practice regularly. Remember to get out and stay out. Never go back into a burning building once you have escaped."

For more information on fire prevention tips, contact Cartersville Fire Prevention Division, 770-387-5635, Bartow County Fire Department, 770-387-5151 or visit www.NFPA.org or www.homefiresprinkler.org.