For Lawrence residents, the importance of National Fire Prevention Week was made painfully clear on Sept. 23.
A 4-year-old Lawrence boy was critically injured after becoming trapped in a fire that day at a mobile home at Gaslight Village trailer park, 1900 W. 31st. He died the next day.
In a case of cruel irony, the fire directly ties in with this year's National Fire Prevention Week theme: "Check Your Detector It's Sound Advice."
Rich Barr, Lawrence fire marshal, said a smoke detector in the mobile home was not working during the fire, which was started accidentally by another child playing with a cigarette lighter.
Barr said that unfortunately, it's not unusual for smoke detectors not to sound during residential fires, nearly always because the detectors haven't been serviced properly.
He said smoke detectors didn't go off in 13 of the 73 single-family residence or duplex fires reported in 1991. In another 26 of those fires, there was no detector in the structure.
"THAT MEANS more than half either had detectors that were not operating or didn't have detectors at all," he said. "It's a problem. And it's really too bad."
Local firefighters will try to make a dent in that problem next week, when they are scheduled to deliver National Fire Prevention Week programs at all Lawrence elementary schools.
Barr said firefighters will talk to children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Kindergartners, first-graders and children in developmental first-grade classes will go through an obstacle course designed to teach them how to get out of a burning house.
Barr said that in the course, which is made of plastic pipe and curtains, children roll out of bed, then go to a door. If a firefighter tells a child the door is hot, the child must crawl to a window. If the door is cold, the child goes through it.
Older children, Barr said, are asked to check at home for fire safety hazards.
"WE ASK them to look for electrical hazards, such as improperly used extension cords," Barr said. "They check for cords that are under table or chair legs or cords that are stretched across high traffic areas, for instance. We also have them check for improper storage of flammable items, such as newspapers or gas cans stored too close to a heat source."
All children, he said, are encouraged to ask their parents to develop an escape plan. Hopefully, he said, the programs would stimulate family discussions about fire safety.
He said grade school children provide an excellent way for firefighters to reach parents.
"We find that children of this age can be very persistent with their parents," he said.
ON THURSDAY, Lawrence Memorial Hospital will take a fire safety message to children and their parents at the Dillons Food Store at 3000 W. Sixth.
Aynsley Anderson, LMH community education coordinator, said hospital representatives would pass out information and discuss fire prevention.
Tying into prevention week are a couple of events scheduled for later in the month.
On Oct. 11, firefighters will hold a ceremony to dedicate Mark Blair Court, a street near Quail Run School named for the only Lawrence firefighter to die in the line of duty. Blair died July 17, 1986, in a residential fire.
On Oct. 24, the day before daylight-saving time goes into effect, firefighters will roll all their trucks out of the stations and sound their alarms.
"What we want people to do is to identify that sound and change the batteries in their smoke detectors," Barr said. "We also would like people to test hard-wire detectors to make sure they're operational."