Winter turns up heat

By Dave Gomez

December through February is the peak time for house fires, according to the DeKalb Fire Department.

The National Fire Protection Association, a non-profit organization, lists heating equipment as the leading cause of fires during the three-month period.

Nationwide, a house fire occurs every 85 seconds, most taking place between 2 and 4 a.m. when homeowners are sleeping. The leading cause of fire deaths isn’t from flames but from heat and smoke, according to the department.

Recent studies show a person’s sense of smell lessens during sleep, leaving him or her unaware of smoke. Smoke also can disorient a person and dull his or her senses, lowering his or her chances of being able to find help during a fire.

The department advises homeowners to change smoke detectors at least once a year and test them once a month.

Homeowners can reduce their chances of dying in a house fire by 50 percent by having working smoke detectors, according to the department. Additionally, smoke detectors more than 10 years old should be replaced with newer models.

The upcoming three-month period leaves little rest for DeKalb firefighters, who in recent months have responded to a record number of incidents.

“We had 384 calls during the month of September, which is the highest we’ve had in probably 10 years,” DeKalb Fire Chief Lanson Russell said.

Between late September and early October, the department put out five structure fires, including a fire at Sherman Place Apartments, 138 Sherman Place, that caused $135,000 in damages and left four families homeless.

DeKalb Fire Lt. David O’Donnell said the department was called out more than 30 times in a 24-hour period Homecoming weekend, assisting with incidents ranging from small fires to transporting intoxicated partygoers.

“Firefighting is very labor-intensive in order to do it safely and correctly,” Russell said.

Russell said the department has received help from other departments through the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS, an organization that covers 80 percent of Illinois fire departments as well as certain parts of Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana.

“It’s a very structured process,” Russell said.

The cooperative system links fire departments in certain geographic areas, allowing them to provide mutual assistance in sending out response teams tailored to certain types of calls, including hazardous material disposal and emergency medical services.