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Tuesday January 15, 2008 Edition
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Some Important Tips From Pittsford Vt. Fire Chief Tom Hooker

Pittsford Vermont Fire Chief Tom Hooker shows an antique firm alarm (left) and a modern photoelectric smoke and carbon monoxide detector (right). Hooker urges all of us to check our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
photo by Mike Cameron
Pittsford Vermont Fire Chief Tom Hooker shows an antique firm alarm (left) and a modern photoelectric smoke and carbon monoxide detector (right). Hooker urges all of us to check our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly.

Tuesday January 15, 2008

By Mike Cameron

   For over 40 years, public safety, police work, and the fire service has been a large part of Tom Hooker’s professional and private life.

   As head of the Pittsford Vermont Volunteer Fire Department, Hooker manages a close knit group of dedicated firefighters in a small but growing community.

   The chief is a hometown boy who has been married to his wife Barb for over 40 years.  They have one daughter Kelley who lives and works near New York City.

   The couple owns and operates Valley Electric Supply in Middlebury.  Their dog “Barney,”is as much a part of the family and their business as they are.  The little guy even has his own personal recliner in the showroom.

  Recently the Voiced asked Chief Hooker if we could pick his brain about fire safety and he was only too happy to oblige.

   “Much of what we can do involves common sense but it’s still very important because fire safety can become a matter of surviving or becoming a victim.

   We as firefighters, for example, enjoy teaching fire safety to little kids because most of them learn very quickly and retain the material remarkably well.  They also bring their new found knowledge home to share with their parents.

   We’ve had classes for children in kindergarten and many of the same kids remembered that same information five years later in the sixth grade.” he explained.

   Then Chief Hooker told this reporter something that was both enlightening and chilling.  I urge you to read this next paragraph carefully because it could save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

   “What most people don’t realize is that being overcome by smoke in a bedroom setting for example, causes the sleeping person to progress deeper and deeper into their sleep.

   The smoke can take our life while we sleep before we have any chance of survival unless we are able to wake up. That’s where smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors play such a vital role in giving us that critical opportunity to wake up and get out of the house alive,” Chief Hooker explained.

   In the late 70’s this reporter experienced first hand what the Chief had just explained.

   A fire broke out in our home.  Heavy smoke quickly filled the house.  The family cat woke me up by  repeatedly scratching at my face.

   She was startled by the smoke detector’s high pitched whine. I never heard the smoke alarm until I was fully awake even though it was mounted only  10 feet away.

   We were able to get out and call the fire department from a neighbors house.The house, our personal  belongings and pets were saved.  More importantly our lives were spared.  Five or ten more minutes of  deep sleep  and it is  likely the results would have been quite different.

   Hooker went on to explain that it is not uncommon for  house fire victims to sleep into their deaths as the result of smoke inhalation.

   He also pointed out that we should not be misled by all the choking and gaging that is acted out in movies and television productions by people trapped in “made for the movies house fires”.  

   Smoke can and does cause these reactions but a sleeping person might not get a chance to cough or gag before the smoke silently kills them in their sleep.

   Today’s technology has produced a wide range of exotic, chemically based materials that can produce fatal smoke and fumes when they burn.  Much of this technology is in our homes today in the form of furniture, floor covering, electronics and the like.

   Last weeks warm spell featuring record breaking temperatures, prompted those who burn wood to damp the fires down thus lowering the burning efficiency of the stoves and furnaces they are using.    

   This can cause a build up of creosote which is a by product of the woodburning process.  Creosote  deposits can build up on the inside of chimneys and cause a clog.  

   Hooker explained that “when the fires are reset to burn hotter as the colder weather returns, the creosote can ignite causing a chimney fire.  We had a call for a chimney fire just the other day.”

   Chimneys should be cleaned at least once a year and twice a year is even better to prevent creosote from building up.  

    It is also important to remember that creosote expansion inside the chimney makes it a tighter fit near wood and over time can actually lower the kindling temperature of the wood from burning season to burning season.

   Have a firefighter look at your wood burning or coal burning set up, they are very co-operative and with their training they can help you to maintain a safe set up.

   Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors are proven life savers and yet we who want to be protected will find ways to use them incorrectly.  

   Replacing the batteries at least once a year is vital. Twice a year is even better.  Clean them out with a duster to remove dirt and bugs.

   Chief Hooker makes his points about these important life savers in very direct and down to earth language.  He has seen what fire can do to people and property.  

   “Smoke Detectors and Co2 detectors help to save lives. Some work with a battery and some can be hard wired in groups of a dozen.  When one detects a trouble spot they all go off.  There are also detectors that combine both smoke and Co2 detection,” he explained.  

   Visit an authorized smoke detector dealer, ask questions and let them know where you plan to use the units.

   A  trained firefighter can take a look at your home or business and know what would be the best fit for you.

   We also asked the chief how to exit from a house that is on fire.

   “Practice the escape as a family.  This is important.  Have a meeting place that everyone knows about outside the house.  A mailbox at the end of the driveway, a tree, a place everyone if familiar with.

   When you are making your escape stay low to the floor, crawl if need be because the better air is near the floor”

   One everyone is outside do not go back into the house for any reason.  This is also very critical safety rule to remember,” as Hooker explains further.   

   “When the occupants use an escape plan correctly, we can determine more accurately where people are when we arrive on the scene.  Is everyone out or not?  We have the equipment and the training to find people inside including the use of thermal imaging technology.  

   When people go back into a burning house on their own their chances of  ever coming back out on their own are not good. It’s important for people to remember that human lives can not be replaced, everything else can be.”

   Winter presents many deadly opportunities for fires to become fatal here in Vermont but we can increase our chances for survival dramatically by being Fire Safety Smart.  Simple common sense planning and precautions can give us the edge we will need at the moment we need it.

    Chief Tom Hooker knows from experience that such plans work and save lives.  “We encourage everyone to use smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishes, safety ladders, and emergency travel kits in their vehicles. It is not a good idea to use your gas grill in the garage as some folks do this time of year and it is also important to talk about fire safety as a family and with family members who might be elderly seniors living alone.”he said.  

   The question we all need to consider is this.  If a fire should start in our home late at night after everyone is sound asleep, will we be able to wake up in time and instinctively know what to do next without hesitation?

   Our conversation with Chief Hooker will provide us with some positive steps in the right direction.


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