Learn to Get Out of a Burning House;
Practice Escape Plan with Kids
Posted March 2, 2015
When you hear a story on the news about someone dying in a house fire, do you ever ask yourself, “Why?” Survival doesn’t seem all that complicated.
The house is on fire. The smoke alarms go off. If you’re asleep, the alarm wakes you. If you’re not, you stop what you’re doing and get out of the house. If you have children, you calmly call to them, explain the problem, and they respond quickly and obediently, collaring the dog on their way out. (They also grab their boots and coats, which are near the front door, because it’s very cold outside.) Everyone meets in the front yard, and the fire department and the insurance company take it from there. Simple.
Except that’s not how it works.
Nine people, including two children, have died in house fires this year. There were five similar deaths by this time in 2014 — and these numbers aren’t just statistics. People lost their lives, and one is too many.
Historically, Minnesota residential fires peak in the winter, and there’s plenty of winter left to justify reviewing the way that fire scenario is more likely to go.
First of all, the smoke alarm won’t go off if its batteries are dead or missing. There’s a place on a fire department report where they can write “Smoke alarm disabled.” That’s how common it is to find the smoke alarm batteries in a plastic truck at the bottom of a toy box — where they’re definitely not going to save your life.
But assume the alarm works, and you wake up or remove your attention from your project, book or TV show. You jump up and smell the smoke. You run through the house looking for the source. It’s rolling (50 percent of the time, statistically) out of the kitchen
and right up the steps to the kids’ playroom. You become extremely upset and start up the stairs, screaming. The children can’t understand you…because you’re screaming. One of them is wearing headphones. They don’t move. The smoke gets thicker. You find the kids, start back downstairs, and they begin to cry and shriek. They’re frightened and their eyes hurt. They want to go get the dog. They can’t breathe. The front door is only feet away, but by now, you can’t see it. The dog’s location at this point is anyone’s guess. It’s 10 degrees outside and the kids are in socks. In modern construction, the size of a fire will approximately double in one minute, so by now you have a very serious problem in the kitchen, and this situation is going nowhere but downhill...
Enter: Bruce West, Minnesota State Fire Marshal. “Escape options, planning and practice will keep people alive in a building fire. Children can be taught to get out and stay out if parents plan and practice with them often.”
According to the American Red Cross, 69 percent of parents believe their children would know what to do and how to escape a fire with little help. However, 82 percent of families have not practiced a home fire drill
. Since children, apparently, are not born with knowledge of things like “two ways out,” “crawl low, under the smoke,” and “meet the family across the street,” many parents may be making a dangerous assumption about how their children would behave in a house fire.
The State Fire Marshal Division offers these tips. They’ll help you avoid the unpleasant scenario described above.
Fire safety and escape planning
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Test alarms monthly and replace the batteries twice a year.
- Alarms should be replaced based on manufacturer recommendations.
- Draw a diagram of your home. Mark windows and doors and plan two ways out of each room.
- Teach your kids to crawl low if they see smoke.
- Plan an outside meeting place — away from the house — for everyone in your home.
- Practice your escape plan twice a year with every family member. Include pets.
- Make sure kids know the sound of a smoke alarm and what to do when it goes off.
- Make sure kids understand they’re not to go back into the house once they’re out. Not ever. For any reason.
- If you’re staying away from home, know how to escape there, too.
- Treat every smoke alarm activation as an emergency. Get out and stay out.
Training Trailer Takes Sprinkler Technology on the Road
Posted February 26, 2015
Every profession has its geeks.
At DPS there are specialists in areas from DNA to DWI and fingerprints to flood control. We have data collectors and data protectors; I.T. gurus and pipeline engineers. There’s even something called a “disaster planner,” which is not at all what it sounds like, but does require a geek’s appreciation of emergency communications.
The State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD), not surprisingly, is filled with people who understand fire safety from top to bottom — and they know that training is a safety essential. Inspectors, investigators, responders and their leaders must keep up with technology, and their Fire Sprinkler Trailer is a great example of how DPS helps them do that.
In 2012, the SFMD took delivery of a fire-protection-systems trailer. This mobile teaching tool provides students with hands-on exposure to fire-sprinkler systems, fire alarm and detection systems, and fire standpipe systems. Those may not sound familiar, but they’re things you want the firefighters who fight your building fire to understand before they get there.
The trailer contains a fire-alarm system, six different sprinkler-systems and one standpipe riser — pretty typical features in building fire-protection systems. Components are color-coded so students can follow the piping (water supply, water discharge, drains, air piping, etc.) from one end to the other.
The fully functional fire-alarm control panel, horn/strobe notification, manual pull station, and photoelectric/heat detectors mimic the situation in a well-protected home or other structure.
The commercial wet-pipe sprinkler riser may be the most common system, and it’s in this trailer — but the usual steel piping has been replaced with clear plastic so students can see how the flow switch operates.
A wet-pipe residential sprinkler riser is about the simplest sprinkler system of all, and that’s there, too, with a shut-off valve and a test connection.
Dry-pipe systems like the one in this trailer are used in cold areas where water might freeze; pipes are filled with pressurized air instead of water. Again, steel parts have been replaced with clear plastic so students can see the internal valves work.
A newer style of dry-pipe sprinkler riser has an external valve that’s easier to reset. With the mobile training trailer, firefighters learn to work that valve and understand the accelerator that improves the system’s performance.
Pre-action sprinkler systems are fairly rare — used mostly in computer rooms and data-processing areas because they reduce the chance of an accidental water discharge — but firefighters must learn to recognize and operate them. A hands-on opportunity comes with the training trailer.
Deluge systems are very rare; they’re used to “flood” a flammable-liquids loading area or a commercial aircraft hangar, perhaps. Sometimes they’re combined with foam applications. It’s another system a firefighter needs to understand.
The trailer has other features, as well, but if you’ve read this far you already know more than you may want to about sprinkler stand pipes.
The important remaining fact is this:
Since it was put into service August 1, 2012, 105 training sessions around Minnesota have helped train 2,111 fire code officials and fire department personnel.
The 56 members of the State Fire Marshal Division are proud of those numbers. They’ll keep encouraging fire departments around the state to reserve the trailer for training purposes, because the more your responders know, the safer you become — and your safety is the SFMD mission.
Check the Tires, Shine the Chrome - And Polish Up Your Riding Skills
Posted February 23, 2015
Motorcyclists are among the first to dream of spring.
Around Valentine’s Day, they begin to think about a warm, westerly breeze — the one that brings with it that…smell. It’s a green smell, because somewhere upwind, plant life frozen stiff for months is beginning to bend and bud. When the breeze arrives here, there’s warmth in the sun and rain in the clouds — and soon after, with roads washed clear of sand and salt, riders are ready to hop on two wheels again.
There’s joy in biking for those who love it — a sense of freedom and excitement. People who are really good at riding motorcycles say riding safely requires every bit of their attention. Riders don’t have the option to worry or fret, deal with distractions or suffer from road rage; that could cost them their lives.
Ironically, they claim, it’s mentally refreshing to concentrate on staying out of danger.
That respect for risk (along with many of the skills to survive it) comes from training and experience. That’s the reason for the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC). Their riding classes are where beginners find basic training (and meet other people who are into bikes) and where experienced riders refresh their skills (and meet other people who are into bikes.)
If riding smart is a priority for you, check this out: MMSC 2015 riding courses are open for registration. Training takes place mostly on Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses, and schedules are posted on the website for each training site
. Since you register online, you may be asked to create a profile. There are prerequisites for some courses, and rules related to keeping students safe — so check descriptions for details. You’ll also want to look at two training opportunities new this year: the Motorcycle Road Guard Course
and the 3-Wheel Basic Rider Course
MMSC staff will be at the Motorcycle Life Expo
at Canterbury Park from Feb. 28 through March 1, and their SMARTrainer
will be there, too. It rides like a motorcycle, but operates like a video game — so hop on and see how well you perform! A Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified riding instructor will be there to discuss your results, if you want to, and make suggestions on where you could polish up your skills.
Minnesota’s Motorcycle Safety Center
has been around since the early ‘80s, and MMSC staff and instructors have helped save thousands of lives. They’re the “Start Seeing Motorcyclists” people — and those bumper stickers are part of an annual campaign to keep other drivers aware that our vulnerable, two-wheeled friends are sharing the road. In 2014, MMSC ran 550 classes across the state, and about 6,100 people participated. Their courses grow more popular each year as numbers of bikes increase and attention to safety becomes even more vital.
Visit the MMSC website
, check out the 2015 course schedule, and put yourself among a special group of riders — the statistically safest ones.
Winter's Back - So Think About Something Else
Posted February 19, 2015
As Paul Huttner recently remarked on his Minnesota Public Radio blog site, “If your idea of a warm front is 30 degrees, you might be a Minnesotan.”
Each winter is different, and Minnesotans are optimists — if not by nature, then as a practical matter. (There’s little use in being anything else.) So, we tell ourselves, there’s more snow than this out east. The wind isn’t as bad as it was last week. The farmers need the moisture. And this won’t last forever; just don’t dwell on it.
That last bit is good advice. It can be hard to think about anything else after our February thaw because those temps in the 30s felt so good. But there are other things to think about that’ll do more good than brooding.
Think about driving, for instance. Numbers released by the DPS Office of Traffic Safety last week are worthy of consideration: they show 13 traffic deaths in Minnesota during the first 10 days of February. Four of the six motorists who died in one four-day stretch were not wearing seat belts. Speed contributes to about one in five road deaths; drunk driving causes another one in five. Distracted drivers are contributing to about 25 percent of our fatalities.
You can’t control other people’s speed, their inebriation level or their refusal to put the phone down and drive. But this you can do something about: Half of the people who die in crashes are not belted. With one click, they might survive. Think about that.
When you’re not driving, you may want to chew on this: Cooking is the reason
for about half the house fires in this state. People will not believe, until they experience a kitchen fire, that they must not (1) turn their attention away from cooking food, (2) leave dishtowels and hot-pads on the range top, or (3) leave the kitchen without being sure the stove is off.
In 2014, about 2,400 unfortunate Minnesotans became believers. Wouldn’t it be great to learn from someone else’s mistake, and avoid the whole issue?
These things, too, will keep you from obsessing about the weather: a fire escape plan and a survival kit.
To make a fire escape plan
, you must first dispel the belief that “It’s not going to happen.” Every week there is news about people whose homes burned. Did they think it was going to happen? No. And neither do you, but you’re smart, so you plan anyway. Sit down with the family, draw a picture
, plan two ways out for every person and a meeting spot outside — and then practice. It’s better than reruns on TV, and it teaches your family a valuable lesson in personal responsibility.
Winter survival kits
are fun to make. More importantly, they can keep you alive and comfortable in a bad situation. Waiting in a vehicle, in the dark, in the cold, on the side of the road — how clever would you feel if you could pull out a box with everything you need to stay warm, fed, hydrated, entertained, medicated, or whatever else you need to be, until help arrived? Pretty clever, probably.
Think about that until the real thaw comes.
Prepare, Respond, Recover, Mitigate
Repeat for 50 Years
Posted February 12, 2015
There was a cartoon series in the 1960s starring a character named “Super Chicken.” He traveled in a flying egg, had a lion sidekick named Fred, and carried a sword with which he single-wingedly rescued innocent victims. The theme song
began, “If you find yourself in danger, if you’re threatened by a stranger, when it looks like you will take a lickin’…” and naturally progressed to the rhyming, “…call for Super Chicken!”
Unfortunately, we have no intrepid poultry to rescue us when we find ourselves in danger — especially when the threat comes from things as potentially destructive as train derailments or radiation leaks. There’s no flying hero to call when we’re taking a lickin’ by a tornado or a torrent of raging flood water. For those things, we need Minnesota’s professional emergency managers, law enforcement, fire and medical service members, volunteers, planners, private-industry safety specialists, and the occasional military expert, as well.
It takes a lot of people, knowledge, experience and cooperation to keep Minnesotans safe in emergencies and disasters — and all those things were omnipresent at the Twin Cities’ Earle Brown Heritage Center this week.
The 50th Annual Governor’s Conference
, hosted by DPS Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) Division
, is attended by 500+ people from every part of Minnesota. These folks spend their professional time thinking about terrible things that could happen, how to prepare, respond and recover, and ways to prevent them from happening again. Just about the time Super Chicken was starting his adventures, their predecessors began having annual meetings to share information and stay updated. There’s always a new threat to plan for, and because emergency response requires coordination, everyone needs to be on the same page.
This week, after a welcome from Commissioner of Public Safety Mona Dohman, conference-goers heard a panel discussion on railway and pipeline safety. New legislation is being implemented in Minnesota to improve oil-transportation safety across our state, and your emergency management and response personnel had a chance this week to hear government and industry experts explain what the new law means in each community.
Over three days, conference-goers attended training on ground-collapse scenes, Ebola, personal protection in radiological events, and school crisis planning. They also studied the “soft” side of emergency management and response — communications, grant management, the role of medical examiners, and coordinating donations and volunteers.
There was one new, well-received topic at this year’s conference that would have made Super Chicken happy. Any chicken, actually. The Minnesota Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps
was present to talk about the role of volunteer veterinarians in disasters. Animals —farm, domestic and wild—all need to be considered in emergency situations, and they’re now part of the annual conversation among the people who plan for and respond to destructive events.
Things change every year. People keep thinking of new ways to hurt each other. Infrastructure ages. Mother Nature shocks us. Technology failures become a bigger problem, and digital tools change the way we respond. And every year, for 50 years now, our Minnesota emergency professionals come away from this conference better prepared to keep us ready, help us respond and recover, and mitigate future damage.
"Just a Second" Can Last a Lifetime: When Distracted Driving Gets Horribly Real
Posted February 10, 2015
Texting-while-driving is against the law in Minnesota and has been since 2008. People are breaking the law. Some are caught. Others get away with it. It happens every day.
The practice has caused thousands of personal injuries at the hands of these inattentive drivers.
In a news conference this week, the Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety
(OTS) presented just one of those heart-wrenching stories in an attempt to drive home the truth about what happens when drivers take their eyes off the road.
On July 17 last year, a 17-year-old driver was reading a text message as she turned into the path of an oncoming vehicle in Eagan. In that vehicle, Kelsey Dyals was driving with her friend on the passenger side and her 15-month-old son, Henry, in the back seat. When the vehicles collided, the toddler suffered a traumatic brain injury. He underwent surgery in St. Paul and he’s still recovering. His mother and her friend had their ankles, legs and chests injured in the crash.
The 17-year-old driver was charged with a felony. Preliminary numbers show that Kelsey’s crash was one of 16,920 where distraction was a factor in 2014. Those distracted drivers caused 7,377 injuries and took 48 lives.
In the news conference, Kelsey told the story of what that day was like for her. Injured, frightened and in pain, she waited to find out if her son would survive. “When the chaplain came to us at the hospital, I knew it was serious. After Henry’s surgery I saw him…lying there in an induced coma…with a breathing tube. That was the worst time. We didn’t know whether he was going to live.”
Kelsey Dyals chose to share her story for the first time to help others understand that distracted driving is more than an abstract idea. It’s more than an irritating situation you encounter and dismiss. It’s an irresponsible, unacceptable, deliberate choice that causes real pain and loss — and her own life has been permanently altered by one careless moment in which another driver chose to ignore those facts.
Eagan police officer Michael Schneider also spoke and told the audience about arriving on the scene and caring for the injured toddler until an ambulance arrived. His story, too, made the tragedy real. “When I found out later that crash was caused by a text message,” he said, “the word that came to my mind was …preventable.”
Office of Traffic Safety Director Donna Berger provided the hard facts about distracted driving — and texting in particular — and how many lives that behavior has disrupted, changed or tragically ended. The OTS “2013 Crash Facts
” report shows that distracted drivers caused 68 deaths that year, and more than 8,000 injuries. And yet, the behavior continues.
Kelsey Dyals described her ordeal. She asked for the awareness of drivers who think it’s okay to take their attention from the road “just for a second,” explaining that one of those “seconds” traumatized her family, put a young girl in legal jeopardy and permanently altered her son’s future. The family is cautiously optimistic — still waiting to see what Henry’s life will be like.
“I’m young. I understand how easy it is to be distracted,” Kelsey said. “I understand that teens think their phones are a priority. But they’re not. One text message almost killed my son.”
Identity Theft: What To Do If You're The Victim
Posted February 5, 2015
Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses another person’s identifying information to their own benefit — usually to acquire money and valuables.
Three days ago, this blog covered ways to protect yourself. If it’s too late, however, don’t let panic and despair slow you down. There are things you can do — things you really must do — to minimize the damage and put things back on track.
Immediately Find and Close Compromised Accounts
Contact your credit card companies. Find out whether your accounts have been tampered with, and if so, close them. Warn each company about what has happened and follow their advice. If new accounts have been opened fraudulently, contact the company, explain the situation and close the account. Review your credit reports for additional fraudulent accounts. Close them. Follow up your phone calls in writing to confirm your requests. Call your bank and check on savings, checking and other accounts, too.
Report Identity Theft
Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission
(or 1-877-FTC-HELP.) Complete the online complaint form and provide a printed copy of it to your local police. The report is needed to correct errors on your credit report and challenge fraudulent transactions.
Report the identity theft to your local law enforcement agency. Provide the police with a copy of your FTC complaint and ask them to attach it to the police report. Ask for a copy of the police report for your records.
When you make a police report, ask them to submit your name to the FBI’s NCIC Identity Theft File
, which provides a means for law enforcement to flag stolen identities and identify imposters when they are encountered.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report and obtain a copy of your credit report by contacting one of these credit reporting agencies (CRAs). The CRA you contact must notify the others.
Further Steps to Protect Yourself
- You have a right to one free credit report each year from each credit reporting agency. Get one annually, and check it carefully.
- Consider placing a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report. You must provide a copy of your identity theft report and explain how creditors can contact you. The credit reporting companies will put your contact information on the extended fraud alert to tell potential creditors they must contact you before issuing credit in your name.
- Consider placing a freeze on your credit. A credit freeze prevents the credit reporting agency from releasing a consumer’s credit report or any information from it without the consumer’s express authorization. To place a credit freeze, victims must send a request to each of the three, nationwide credit-reporting agencies, along with a police report or police case number documenting identity theft. Keep in mind that if you wish to get credit, you will have to temporarily “unfreeze” your credit.
There’s More to Know
These are just the first things you should do or consider. On the DPS Office of Justice Programs website, there is advice on specific ID-theft issues like — driver’s licenses and state ID cards, tax returns, internet crimes, passports and more.
Sadly, the list of damage that can be done with a stolen identity is a long one, and it can be an even longer road back to normal. It’s well worthwhile to arm yourself now with the knowledge and resources you need to stay safe.
Identity Theft: Don't Fall for a Scam
Posted February 2, 2015
Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses another person’s personal information to their own benefit — usually to acquire money and valuables. It is already the most common type of fraud in the U.S., and our digital, electronic communication and business practices are making it easier. You’re safer if you understand how it happens, what protections you have, and what to do if you fall prey to identity thieves.
ID theft costs victims big money. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics
says that 16.6 million people experienced identity theft in 2012, and the direct and indirect losses totaled $24.7 billion.
And it’s not only expensive. This crime can cause the victim to be confused with the criminal. The DPS Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
developed a way for Minnesota police to read and contribute to the FBI database on victims of identity theft. If you report your identity stolen, you’ll be asked for information to help identify you as the victim, at that time and in later encounters with law enforcement. A victim might still be pulled over, for instance, by police who think they’ve found a perpetrator — but the FBI data will show them that the subject is, in fact, the victim. That’s comforting to know, but it’s an after-the-fact protective measure. You’d be better off preventing ID theft in the first place.
There are steps you can take
to keep from becoming a victim and important things to know about what to do if your identity should be stolen.
Don’t Give it Away
This information is not complete, and it’s not legal advice — but it’s a start, and it should be shared with anyone in the household who has a Social Security number, a driver’s license or a bank account.
- Don't carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet, and don’t print it on your checks.
- Protect your PIN. Don’t write it down — and use your free hand to shield the keypad.
- Collect mail promptly. The USPO can hold your mail if you’re away from home long.
- Know your billing cycles. Late bills or statements may have been stolen. Contact the sender.
- Keep your receipts for debit and credit purchases.
- Watch bank and credit accounts for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred credit offers, receipts, statements, invoices, expired cards, etc., to foil dumpster divers.
- Store personal information in a safe, private place at home and at work.
- Don't respond to unsolicited requests for personal information in the mail, over the phone or online.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Check your credit report once a year.
Don’t Fall for a Scam
Identity thieves want your Social Security number, bank account and credit card numbers, your birth date, your driver’s license number, and identifying numbers connected to your job, insurance and other finances — and they’re getting more devious every day in coming up with ways to get them.
Start by developing a skeptical attitude. Question everything. Think before you respond to requests for personal data, and consider these general rules:
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You didn’t win a lottery unless you bought a ticket.
- When in doubt, check it out. Chances are your grandchild is not stranded in another country, and the IRS does not call and threaten people. Never provide personal information without doing some homework first.
- A real bank, credit card company, or utility will not ask for your personal information by email, whether you have an account with them or not — period. And if you have one, they already have your numbers.
- Companies that do retail business online will address you by name. They don’t call you “Customer” or substitute your email address for your name.
- Always feel comfortable contacting a company directly to ask if they called or emailed you. Check with the Better Business Bureau.
Search online to see whether a company you wonder about has been involved in a scam.
There are multiple places online to find advice on protecting yourself from identity thieves, and the more you know about it, the safer you’ll be.
The next DPS Blog post will review steps to take if you should become a victim — so tune in Thursday.