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Blog Archive: February 2016

Practice Makes Safety: The Family Fire Drill

February 29, 2016
If you grew up anywhere in tornado country, you remember the drills at school: Grab your thickest textbook (social studies, anyone?), put it on your head, and get under your desk. And why do we remember these drills, even years later? Because we practiced them over and over.
Although today’s schoolchildren still practice such drills, nothing guarantees disasters like tornadoes and fires will occur while they’re at school. Which is why it’s important to create a fire escape plan for your family and practice it at least twice a year.
image of a smoke detector in a home
Photo: Practice your fire escape plan at least twice a year.
1. The first step in creating an escape plan is also perhaps the most overlooked: Make sure your children know what the fire alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it.
Children can be extremely heavy sleepers; if they slumber through high-pitched beeping, you may want to consider such options as an alarm with an automated voice or one that allows you to record your own voice.
2. Next, designate a place outside your house where you can all meet up once you have escaped. Make sure babysitters know where it is in case something happens when you’re not home.
Then determine two ways out of every room and make sure every family member knows them. It is especially important that everyone knows the two ways out of his or her own bedroom. Drawing a diagram of your home on graph paper can help with this, and the kids can even decorate it if they want!
3. After that, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Experts agree that you have an estimated two minutes to get out of your house in a fire.  If it helps, make it a game and try to beat your last time every time. Tie your twice-yearly practices to other regular occurrences so you remember: the first week of summer vacation and the week before New Year’s, for example. Put a monthly testing of your smoke alarms on your calendar as well.
State Fire Marshal Bruce West urges families to practice at different times during the day and night — and make your scenarios as real as possible. Sound the smoke alarm after the kids have fallen asleep or when they’re watching their favorite TV show so you know how they’ll react if they believe there is a real emergency.
See for yourself how three Minnesota children reacted in the middle of the night to the sound of a smoke alarm. What the youngsters do might surprise you. 
With a solid escape plan at the ready, you can rest assured that both the kids and the adults in your household won’t panic, but do exactly what is necessary should the unimaginable occur.

A Ray of Hope for Crime Victims

February 25, 2016
If you’re the victim of a violent crime, the last thing you’ll want to think about is money. But the reality is that the results of a violent crime, such as funeral expenses and medical bills, can become a financial burden in an already stressful time.
Asian woman looking out window
​                 Photo: Reparations can offer the
                  kind of financial support that can
                    put victims on the road to healing.
That’s why it’s important to know that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs (DPS-OJP) reparations program can compensate victims for losses they suffer as the result of a violent crime.
In order to be eligible, applicants must be victims of violent crimes resulting in injury or death, such as homicide, assault, robbery, domestic abuse, sexual assault, or child abuse. The crime must have happened in Minnesota and must have been reported to the police within 30 days, and victims must file the claim within 3 years (see the full list of eligibility requirements). There are exceptions to some of the requirements.
The reparations program can cover expenses such as funeral costs, crime scene cleanup, medical costs, mental health counseling, lost wages and even financial support for dependents of a homicide victim.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a violent crime, please don’t hesitate to email the Crime Victims Reparations Board or call 651-201-7300 to ask for an application form. In 2015, the program paid out $2.9 million in reparations to victims of violent crimes across the state.
Reparations can’t turn back time or make it so the crime never happened, but they can offer the kind of financial support that can put victims on the road to healing.

If You Don't Follow Us on Instagram or YouTube, You're Missing Out

February 23, 2016
Terror. Heartbreak. Anger. Anguish.
Those emotions are hard to convey with words alone. Sometimes what the Department of Public Safety tells you about a fatal crash or a deadly fire is simply not enough to change behaviors, to get people to think twice.
Paynesville house fire
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The DPS YouTube page is filled with fatal fires and all the other public
safety issues we come across.
Because it’s our job at DPS to help save lives, we keep looking for ways to get Minnesotans to stop looking at their phones behind the wheel. Or to check smoke alarms each month. We really want you and your neighbors to listen when we urge you to talk to your kids about the dangers of fire or the consequences of drinking and driving.
We use Facebook and Twitter to tell these stories and to show you that, yes, it (insert life-changing event) can happen to you. These social media platforms are effective. They’re engaging. They get your attention. But sometimes they just aren’t enough. Enter Instagram and YouTube. 
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. We agree. Want a behind-the-scenes look at the State Patrol Academy? Look no further than DPS on Instagram. Wondering what happens when you pour water on a grease fire? We’ve got a picture for that, too.
If you want another dose of reality, check out our YouTube channel. There are dozens of videos, each with an important message. Some of what you’ll find here will leave you angry and amazed. Many videos — like “Shattered Dreams” or “Perri’s Story” — will leave you reaching for a tissue and, we hope, the “share” button.
Our YouTube page is filled with dozens of reminders that car crashes and fatal fires and all the other public safety issues we come across daily are real and they happen to our neighbors, our friends and the people closest to us. Nobody is immune.
You can get an inside look at what it’s like to be booked into jail for DWI. You watch as a devastated mother and father talk about their 11-year-old daughter’s horrific death in a fire she likely caused while playing with matches or a lighter.
These videos are meant to put you in the shoes of people whose lives — whether by their own choice or someone else’s — were changed forever so the same doesn’t happen to you. 
Whether it’s a Facebook post, a Tweet, a photo or a powerful video, we’ll keep working hard and coming up with ways to make Minnesota safer.
Please follow us and help spread the message.

Help Put a Freeze on Winter Fires in Your Home

February 18, 2016
This time of year is especially dangerous for residential fires in Minnesota. It’s cold. (OK. Maybe not today or this weekend but we're not out of the woods yet.) People are cozying up next to the fireplace or using space heaters to add an extra layer of warm.
Cooking, entertaining guests, keeping ourselves busy — we’re doing it all indoors. And that increases the risk inside our homes. 
Photo: Take a few minutes to talk about fire escape
plans with everyone in the home, especially children.
A few moments. That’s all it takes to make sure fire does not destroy property, or worse, take a life. 
Here’s the thing: Most fires can be prevented. That’s right. Nearly all fires are caused by some sort of human error like walking away from a grease-filled pan or leaving a candle too close to the drapes.
You’re stuck indoors. Take a few moments to make sure disaster doesn’t strike with several important fire prevention strategies: 
  • Never leave the kitchen when food is cooking. If you need to step out, turn off the burner.
  • Make sure nobody falls asleep with a space heater on.
  • Keep candles at least three feet from anything flammable. Better yet — try the flameless variety. They are much safer.
  • Properly dispose of your cigarettes and make sure they are completely extinguished.
A few other ideas to keep you busy when you’re stuck indoors: Check the batteries in every smoke alarm at the beginning of the month. And while you’re at it, take a few minutes to talk about fire escape plans with everyone in the home, especially children. Don’t assume they will know what to do if there is a fire. Many children hide because they are scared. Talking with them in a safe environment about their fire escape plan is the best way to ensure they will get out of the home and stay out.  
Winter is bad enough. Don’t make it worse with a fire in your home. Help our State Fire Marshal Division put a freeze on winter fires by following these simple tips.

Show Your Sweetheart You Really Care This Valentine’s Day

February 11, 2016
Candy hearts have never been the most popular sweet treat on Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s because they taste like chalk (chalk or chocolate? That’s a no-brainer) or because it’s hard to seriously profess your love for someone in one or two words like “text me” or “sweet.”
Photo: Valentine’s Day is Sunday so you should start thinking now
of who will be your sober ride if your plans include alcohol. ​
That got us thinking: What if candy hearts were emblazoned with actual useful information? As you pop the chalk, er … heart, into your mouth, you’re reminded to pay attention or drive sober.
It could be the next million dollar idea.
Or not.
While we work on the whole candy hearts idea, we’d like to share with you our Valentine’s Day edition of our favorite safety tips.
  1. Pay attention.Taking your true love on a date? Keep your eyes off your phone and on the road. A hospital room is no place for romance.
  2. Stay and look while you cook. You might be cooking a special meal for your special someone. Make sure you stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on your romantic creation. A house full of smoke is hardly the best way to show your honey you care.
  3. Drive sober. Time to call in that favor. Valentine’s Day is Sunday so you should start thinking now of who will be your sober ride if your plans include alcohol. Cupid is not a fan of drunk drivers.

Get Your Motorcycle Fix: Sign Up For a Training Course

February 1, 2016
At this point during the cold and sunless winter, most people are dreaming of beaches. Their thoughts drift to tropical islands and southern states — pretty much anywhere that isn’t Minnesota or the upper Midwest.
Then there are Minnesota’s motorcyclists.
Dreams of their bikes dance through their heads. They are counting down the days to mostly dry roads and “warm” temps, the definition of which varies by rider.
guy using a motorcycle simulator
Photo: Hazardous avoidance skills are put to the test
on the motorcycle simulator.
Regardless, the days when the roads are peppered with motorcycles are still a ways off. Thankfully there is another way for riders to get their motorcycle fix. Actually, there are two ways and the first starts Friday.
The Progressive International Motorcycle Show is at the Minneapolis Convention Center and runs Feb. 5-7. Can’t make it to that show? The Donnie Smith Bike and Car Show makes its way to the St. Paul RiverCentre April 2-3.
Both of these shows are a great way for riders to see the latest bikes and safety gear. More importantly, there will be plenty of opportunities to brush up on your skills — they get rusty over the winter months whether you’re a rookie or a long-time rider — on our Motorcycle Safety Center’s SMARTrainer.
Anyone can put their hazardous avoidance skills to the test on the motorcycle simulator, which shows you what skills you should polish before getting on your bike again come spring. At this weekend’s show, Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified RiderCoaches will be at the MMSC booth to answer training questions and talk about what courses you can take to get your edge back.
The best part is you don’t need to go to one of these motorcycle shows to learn more about training courses. You can do it from the comfort of your own home.
Training is everything. It helps make life-saving maneuvers second nature to riders. Motorcyclists of all skill levels should always take advantage of training courses so they can become safer and better riders.
Come see us at The Progressive International Motorcycle Show this weekend or the Donnie Smith Bike and Car Show in April. We will have everything you need so you’re ready to stop dreaming and really hit the road in a few months.
In the meantime, check out our website for great rider information as well as tips for motorcyclists and motorists on the sharing the road.