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, Chief Schapelhouman notes, 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.

This year, the fire district is working to avert holiday tragedies by educating the public through its annual holiday fire safety demonstration conducted at its Menlo Park training site.

The live demonstrations -- which are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today -- will address burning Christmas trees, candles, radiant heaters, fireplace fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other potential holiday safety emergencies, according to the fire district.

Besides home safety scenarios, this year's demonstrations will include two simulated school classroom fires to compare the performance of a classroom equipped with a sprinkler system to one without.

According Chief Schapelhouman, the classroom simulation is 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, he said.

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

The demonstrations will be conducted at the fire district's Baylands Structural Collapse Training Site located behind the PG&E substation off of Bayfront Expressway in Menlo Park.

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