Improving fire codes one goal of Fire Prevention Month

Photo By Rick Harris
Elizabethton Fire Department Fire Marshal Barry Carrier (far right) discusses construction of new fire escapes at Alexander Apartments with the owners, Dr. Donald W. and Helen Larkin. October is Fire Prevention Month.

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
October is Fire Prevention Month in Tennessee and the City of Elizabethton Fire Departments are firing up their engines to educate people and prevent fire deaths. Fire Marshal Barry Carrier is seeing many positive things happen in fire safety during the month, from improving fire codes at local apartment buildings to fire drills at schools.
Part of Carrier's job requires that he visit apartments for inspection and deliver the news to owners about the cost of improving the building with updated fire codes.
According to Carrier, "Over 70 percent of fire deaths occur in dwellings where people sleep, like apartments and nursing homes.
"What I am doing is trying to look at statistics as a guide to where we need to concentrate. Statistically, if we have a fire death, it will probably occur where people are sleeping. I am concentrating on those places. We are trying to hit the spots that are statistically high for fire deaths."
Alexander Apartments on West G Street has not only followed Carrier's recommendations but also far exceeded them to provide a higher degree of safety for tenants.
Dr. Donald W. and Helen Larkin recently bought Alexander Apartments and were fully aware of the work that would be required to bring the building up to the 2000 edition of the National Fire Protection Association's 101 Life Safety Code. Carrier inspected the apartments and made recommendations to the Larkins.
Those recommendations will cost the Larkins over $100,000 to complete. A main concern for Carrier was providing a secondary means of egress, or fire escapes, for tenants. Fire escapes are now being constructed by CM White Construction, and currently costs of the renovations have exceeded $75,000.
Helen Larkin said, "We knew we would have to do it when we bought it. Barry (Carrier) looked at the building and told us what needed to be done."
To enhance the safety of the building, a complete fire alarm system was installed, as well as hard- wired smoke detectors, fire escapes and pull station fire alarms.
Current fire codes only call for battery operated smoke detectors in each dwelling, but the Larkins went above that requirement and installed hard-wired, battery operated smoke detectors, which will still work in the event the battery is dead.
Carrier said that since the early 1980s when smoke detectors were required to be installed in existing buildings, the number of fire deaths has decreased by half, even though on average, less than 80 percent of smoke detectors will not work in an emergency due to a dead battery.
Improvements have been made so that when a fire originates in a specific apartment, the tenant will be notified by the smoke detector. Tenants can then pull the fire alarm which will awaken or inform neighboring tenants. Since Alexander Apartments installed a complete fire alarm system with an alarm company, emergency personnel and 911 will be contacted immediately.
Carrier said many apartments have upgraded their safety to meet the NFPA 101 Fire Codes, including Lynn Ridge Apartments, Lynn Wood Apartments and Daytona, Talledaga and Bristol Apartments on West G Street.
Another goal of Carrier and fellow firefighters in October is educating school children on fire safety. This includes visits to the fire stations for elementary students and supervised fire drills at Elizabethton city schools.
When visiting the fire station, students will be given instruction on fire safety complete with materials they can take home such as badges, hats, pins and reading material. Carrier said through the Fire Pup Program, donations from local businesses fund the materials given to the children.
The Elizabethton Fire Department will also be conducting fire drills in schools. Each drill will be monitored by firefighters placed around and inside the school who make sure that principals, teachers and students know exactly what to do in case of an emergency.
Carrier said he looks for discipline and supervision. "Number one, I am looking at how they are exiting the building in a disciplined manner. The number two concern is accountability for students once they are outside," he said.
Communication is key in preventing a death in a school fire. Carrier said that when a school fire starts, the first question fire departments ask the principal upon arrival is: "Is anyone left in the building?" The principal must be able to communicate with teachers, who keep account of each student in his or her classes.
Elizabethton City Schools received a safety grant last year which funded portable handheld radios for the teachers and principal, according to Carrier. These devices will greatly increase safety in an emergency.
"We can never completely remove all the risks to citizens in the community. As long as we go about our day to day lives, there is risk. But we can identify the most risk prone areas and address the areas to reduce the risk. But we will never be able to eliminate it," said Carrier.
October 5-11 is also designated as National Fire Prevention Week. The motto for this year is "When Fire Strikes: Get Out! Stay Out!"