Fire Safety A Top Priority

David J. Valesky

October 14, 2005

The weather is starting to turn colder and furnaces are being fired up for the first time this season. With the higher heating costs caused by increased fuel prices, you can be certain that many homeowners will supplement their heat with fireplaces, gas inserts or wood burning stoves.

While the image of a warm fire brings comforting thoughts to many of us, local fire chiefs I have met with are rightly concerned that an increase in fireplace and stove fires will also mean a greater risk of house fires.

There are a few simple steps you can take to minimize the chance of fire and reduce the risk to your family. When it comes to fireplaces, make sure you have your chimney cleaned and inspected before each winter season, always use a fireplace screen and never leave a fire unattended.

If you decide to go with a gas fireplace, wood insert, or stove make sure it is professionally installed and inspected regularly. In my talks, several fire officials stressed the importance of professional installation.

You can also help prepare your family by testing your smoke detectors and remembering to change the batteries when you change the clocks back. Also, keep fire extinguishers on hand and take the time to develop and discuss a family fire escape plan.

Since taking office, I have made fire safety and support of fire departments a top priority.
That’s why earlier this year I proposed legislation to allow an income tax deduction for the purchase of a home fire extinguisher. Recognizing the unique challenges rural volunteer departments face with regard to recruitment and retention, I also proposed legislation that would waive vehicle registration and license fees for fire and ambulance volunteers. If enacted this bill would serve as an incentive for volunteers, but it also makes sense as our volunteer emergency responders often use their own vehicles to do the job of protecting all of us.

When it came time to direct discretionary funds in the district, I found no cause more important than helping fire departments and emergency responders. I was delighted to assist 18 emergency responder organizations, helping them purchase or update desperately needed equipment in their work to save lives.

As we enter a dangerous season for house fires and as the Legislature readies itself for a new session, I am committed to continuing my unwavering support for fire departments -- both paid and volunteer. These men and women make our safety their top priority. The least we can do is return the favor.