Editor’s note: In early June, The Columbus Telegram published a story, “Losing nearly everything,” detailing a Columbus family’s experience after a fire destroyed its home. This is a follow-up story.
Almost five months later, Allison Hast still remembers May 29 like it was yesterday.
On that evening, an electrical issue sparked a fire and destroyed her family’s Thundershore Drive home, taking away the Columbus woman’s residence and decades of the family’s priceless memories -- just weeks before she was supposed to give birth to her daughter.
“Looking back on the fire, there are so many ‘what if’s’ that I constantly go over in my head. I don’t think you ever truly get over it. I know the odds of it happening again is extremely slim, but when I think of a future home, I think of what will I do if this happens again. I’m afraid; plain and simple. I still think about it every day,” Hast said. “I’ve always taken safety very seriously and thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t even close to being prepared. I had six smoke alarms in my home, a fire extinguisher and an exit plan that I went over with my son when we first moved into that home (less than five years) before the fire took it.”
The Columbus Fire Department is making an effort to prevent more families from having to go through similar ordeals by pushing the National Fire Protection Association’s 2018 Fire Prevention Week Campaign this week. The FPW campaign – “Look. Listen. Learn. Be Aware. Fire can happen anywhere” – works to educate people about three basic but essential steps to take to reduce the likelihood of having a fire and how to escape safely in the event of one.
Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on Oct. 8, 1871, and caused horrific damage and killed more than 250 people.
“Every fire can turn into a larger fire if we don’t get there quick enough and put it out, so Fire Prevention Week is all about preventing those fires from starting up in the first place,” Columbus Fire Chief Dan Miller said. “Obviously that’s what we want to do, so we can make sure nobody gets hurt, nobody loses their life and nobody loses their property.”
Columbus firefighters stay busy responding to various calls, including structure, camp and vegetation fires.
“As the community grows, so do our call numbers,” Miller said.
The essential steps from the FPW that Miller is asking people to keep in mind are simple:
*Look – Look for places fire could start. Take a good look around your home. Identify potential fire hazards.
* Listen – Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm. You could have only minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Go to your outside meeting place, which should be a safe distance from the home and where everyone should know to meet.
* Learn – Learn two ways out of every home and make sure all doors and windows leading outside open easily and are free of clutter.
“It can be as simple as keeping utility rooms in the home clutter free, the path in and out of your home clear and free,” Miller said. “Those things can be a great benefit to reducing loss and preventing a fire from starting.”
The fire chief also stressed the importance in getting rid of cigarette butts properly. He said though more and more smokers in the U.S. are doing so outside, many people don’t think about proper disposal and oftentimes will discard butts in planters up against the side of or near a home. Those planters are typically filled with potting soil, not dirt, and can smolder and eventually catch fire.
“People are not getting the fact you can’t just put that cigarette butt anywhere; just because you’re not smoking inside the home anymore doesn’t mean it’s not still a danger,” he said. “They need to be put our properly and not in a planter.”
What’s a safe solution? A coffee can with a little bit of water to prevent the butt from going anywhere and so that it soaks up moisture, Miller noted.
In conjunction with Fire Prevention Week, the local fire department kicked off its Columbus Junior Fire Patrol for area fifth-grade students this week. The students, who will graduate from the course In May, on Thursday evening took part in the Junior Fire Patrol Parade in the downtown area.
CFD is also working with nonprofit Keep Columbus Beautiful to distribute 18,000 smoke detector batteries to people in the area in the near future, Miller said. More specific details are in the works and will be announced in the coming weeks.
“Almost everyone in their lifetime has the fire department respond to wherever their living at least twice for an actual fire event. So almost everyone gets touched by it sooner or later, it’s just a matter of time,” Miller said. “We just want to make sure people are doing things on a daily basis to prevent fires …”
As for Hast, she said the May fire was a learning experience and that her family will be taking all proper precautions to be prepared if an emergency ever presents itself again in their next home. She said she hopes others will do the same.
“I would encourage everyone to not only have an exit plan, but have a couple in case one doesn’t work. Practice them with your family. Have fire extinguishers throughout the house …” she said. “Just be as prepared as you can and hope that you never have to rely on those prevention measures. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, fire does not discriminate, you can’t predict it, and it will take whatever it can.”
Hast and her family are currently staying with her parents in town as they continue to work with their insurance in hopes to eventually build a new home. They’re doing well, though, as Hast gave birth to a healthy daughter, Raeya Curtis, on Aug. 3.
“You know, when it comes down to it, this is all that really matters,” Hast said, sharing a photo of her daughter and family. “Possessions mean nothing without them. She was our silver lining.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.