Almanac

News - December 15, 2010

Firefighters stage safety demonstration

By Bay City News Service

Last Christmas season, eight people almost died in San Mateo County when carbon monoxide built up to dangerous levels in their North Fair Oaks home, incapacitating most of those residents.

Firefighters arrived before it was too late, but not all families have been so fortunate, says Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

In 2003, two children lost their lives in an early morning East Palo Alto fire that began when their Christmas tree caught fire near an unscreened fireplace.

Two years later, an Atherton man was killed when he returned home from his family's Christmas Eve celebrations and accidentally set fire to his clothing when trying to light his pellet stove.

The fire district is working to avert holiday tragedies through educational efforts such as its annual holiday fire safety demonstrations conducted Dec. 9 at the district's Baylands Structural Collapse Training Site located behind the PG&E substation off of Bayfront Expressway in Menlo Park.

The live demonstrations addressed burning Christmas trees, candles, radiant heaters, fireplace fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other potential holiday safety emergencies.

Besides home safety scenarios, the demonstrations included two simulated school classroom fires to compare the performance of a classroom equipped with a sprinkler system to one without.

According to Chief Schapelhouman, the classroom simulation was designed to shed light on a state loophole that allows school districts to build new schools without sprinkler systems.

The fire district is asking school districts across the state to voluntarily sign the pledge not to use this exemption.

In July, an elementary school in San Jose sustained more than $10 million in damage after it was gutted by a fire believed to have been set by arsonists, Chief Schapelhouman said.

That school, Trace Elementary, was equipped with neither sprinklers nor an automatic fire alarm system.

Visit tinyurl.com/HolidayFire for holiday fire safety tips.

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