Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Friday, September 21, 2012


Day 21 - Campus Fire Safety Month

Last weekend I responded to a house fire in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul.  The fire started on the outside of the house near the porch.  Flames - fanned by the southwesterly breeze - pushed up the exterior walls and into the eaves and attic and forced their way into the first floor kitchen.  The sole occupant of the home awoke to the sound of smoke alarms sounding, thick smoke filling her home, and flames rapidly eating their way through the first and second floors, and gaining a stubborn foothold in the concealed ceiling spaces and roof structure of the attic.

Saint Paul Firefighters responded quickly, but the house was "fully involved" upon our arrival.  We managed to remove some personal items and records from the home, but the house was declared a total loss.  A home destroyed.....important records, photos, and books lost.....3 people displaced.....a family that will take a very long time to regain its sense of physical and financial security again.

The cause if the fire was an all-too-often culprit:  carelessly discarded smoking material.  Cigarette ashes, butts, and matches not fully extinguished can flare into flames when dropped or discarded next to other combustibles.  "Smoking-related" fires account for a significantly large percentage of fires in the nation, and are the leading cause of fatal fires in the country, the state, and Saint Paul.  This year, Saint Paul has had four fatal fires - all of them caused by smoking or carelessly discarded smoking materials.

Saint Paul's only recent college student fatality was a result of smoking, and the fire was eerily similar to the fire in Frogtown over the weekend:  an outside fire on the porch, pushed by the southwesterly wind and driven back into a student rental house, where it trapped and killed 20 year old Michael Larson, a University of Saint Thomas student.  Smoke alarms awoke other occupants and allowed them to escape, but Michael was trapped.....and he was the only occupant of the home who didn't smoke!

There is no "safe cigarette" when it comes to starting fires.  Short of quitting a smoking habit, there are a number of ways you can reduce your chance of hurting yourself or others or burning down a building:

*  First, know that if you light the match or the cigarette, you are responsible if a fire ensues.  Be responsible for your actions.

*  Ensure that matches, ashes, and butts are completely extinguished before discarding them.

*  Use an ash/butt receptacle that is deep, non-combustible, and made for holding discarded smoking materials.  Many times the Fire Department responds to extinguish a fire in ash containers made from plastic, fires in shallow ash containers that have spilled their contents, or ash containers/ashtrays placed on unstable surfaces.  "Deep, stable, and non-combustible" are what you should choose when looking for an ash/butt receptacle.

*   Clean the butts out of that receptacle on a regular basis.  Fires can start when a glowing match or cigarette ash comes into contact with a large accumulation the cigarette butts and papers in an ashcan/butt receptacle.

*  Do not discard smoking materials into potted plants or onto ground cover such wood chips or mulch.  The vegetable materials in potting soil and ground cover is combustible and can catch fire after coming into contact with a glowing ash or cigarette butt.

*  Use childproof lighters and avoid novelty lighters that children might be tempted to play with.

*  Don't smoke when you're sleepy and don't smoke when you're drinking.  Those activities are deadly combinations.  I have witnessed many fires that resulted when people were smoking and fell asleep; alcohol increases the risk of falling asleep.

*  If you have roommates or neighbors that smoke, make sure you pass these fire prevention tips on to them as well.  The Michael Larson fire was a prime example of a smoking-related fire that took the life of a non-smoker.

These simple tips can save your life and can save your property or the property of a neighbor or a loved one.  For college students experiencing independence from home for the first, peer pressure to engage in risky behavior like drinking and smoking can be almost irresistible.  Please arm your student with information about the dangers of smoking.  Be sure to remind them that, "If you light the cigarette, then you light the fire that starts from careless or irresponsible disposal of the matches and the butts from your smoking experience."

Take care, and be safe.


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