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Honoring Fallen Firefighters, Preparing as Individuals

During Fire Prevention Week, as we remember the sacrifices of our firefighters and first responders, we have a responsibility to make sure our own homes are protected.

This past Sunday, as part of the 2010 Fire Prevention Week, I had the privilege of delivering remarks on behalf of President Obama at the National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial, as we recognized and honored 105 firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Here’s a short excerpt:

To the families of those we’ve lost, the thoughts and prayers of a grateful nation are with you.

Firefighters are among the first called to any emergency – and it is a call they selflessly rush to meet. Whether for a fire, a highly specialized rescue, or emergency medical services, the men and women of our nation’s fire services are there, serving their communities in a moment of need. Day after day, in towns and cities across this country, they are fighting structural fires or wildfires, or protecting our troops, bringing relief from fear, from danger, from the hazards of our world.

It takes a certain type of individual to be willing to rush into a burning building as everyone else is trying to get out.  As we remember the sacrifices firefighters and first responders make, along with their families, we as individuals have our own responsibility to make sure our own homes are protected, and the best thing you can do is make sure you have a working smoke alarm in your home.

Earlier this week, Glenn Gaines, the Acting Administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration, joined me in talking about the importance of properly installing smoke alarms:

 Here are few important things to know:

  • You should test your smoke alarm once a month.
  • You should change your alkaline batteries at least once a year.
  • You should install your smoke alarms on every level of your home (including the basement), outside of each sleeping area, and inside each bedroom.
  • You should not take the battery out of your smoke alarm if it sounds while you are cooking.

Residential structure fires occur every 79 seconds in this country.  A smoke alarm can alert you and your family to a fire whether you are awake or asleep: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  That piece of mind only costs you the price of the smoke alarm (available at a local drug store or hardware store) and the price of batteries.

As I often say, FEMA is not the team – we’re only part of the team.  That team includes the entire federal family, state and local officials, first responders across our nation, and especially the public.  That’s right - you as an individual and member of your community are a big part of the team.  The better prepared you are, the better prepared your community is.

How do you get started?  Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in your home and a plan for you and your family in case of a fire.

You never know when a fire or other emergency may strike – so take these simple steps today to make sure you are ready for tomorrow.

Craig Fugate is the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency