DeKALB – Joe Dillett held up an electrical cord, like those found in almost any home.
“Fifty percent of all house fires are electrical,” he told a small but attentive audience in the DeKalb High School gym last Saturday afternoon. “Anything can happen.”
The Somonauk man was one of a dozen volunteer presenters at a fire safety seminar hosted by the American Red Cross. Dani Connolly, support manager for community preparedness and resiliency, said the purpose of the seminar was to offer tips for preventing house fires. The seminar was broken into different stations: “Disaster Supply Kit,” “Exit Plan,” “Fire Safety Equipment,” “Home Hazard Solutions,” and “Citizen CPR.”
According to Red Cross Community Manager Patricia Kemp, there have already been 210 fires since Jan. 1 in the 13-county region that includes most of northern Illinois and parts of northwestern Indiana. In the past week alone, there were 60 fires, affecting 108 people, and four fatalities. While that’s about the same number of fires as last year, the severity of the fires is worse, which may be due to the extremely cold winter.
“We’ve helped over 800 people (since Jan. 1),” she said.
Volunteer Tracy Lesiak said most house fires occur from November through March, when it’s colder outside and people choose to use alternative forms of heating, such as space heaters. Most fires happen on weekends, between 6 and 7 p.m., when people are cooking and may leave an appliance unattended to check on children or other matters.
“Two-thirds of all fatalities happen because they didn’t have a smoke detector or they didn’t have one that worked,” Dean Richardson said during his presentation. Besides checking the batteries, he suggested homes have two detectors, one as a backup in case the first one doesn’t work.
During her talk, Erica Huerta said a house can be engulfed in flames in just two minutes, which is why it’s important to have an escape plan already mapped out.
“Get out first, then call 911,” Amy Dyer added.
Once an emergency arises, Karla Lara and Glenn Harris stressed the importance of having an emergency bag packed near an exit. The bag should be full of necessities, including food, bottled water, medicine, personal photographs, important documents and cash.
“If we can just prevent one fire, this (seminar) is worth it,” Richardson said.
About 60 DeKalb County-area residents attended.