State's chiefs brainstorm ways to decrease fire deaths

Mississippi television viewers could see fire safety commercials sometime in the near future.
More than 25 fire chiefs from across the state discussed public service announcements and other fire safety ideas at a meeting in Jackson on Tuesday.
State Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Ricky Davis called the gathering to brainstorm ways to decrease fire deaths in the wake of the Dec. 28 Starkville apartment fire that killed nine people. Mississippi has the fourth worst fire death rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
“Our focus was to combat the problems we have in our state with fire deaths and prevent those fires from ever happening,” said Davis, who said the group plans to meet again in a month.
Search narrows
The cause of the deadly Starkville fire still is under investigation. Davis said investigators have focused on two possible causes: a lit cigarette left on a fabric chair in the living room and the room’s electrical system. Outside experts are expected to be in Starkville today to examine if it was an electrical fire.
“The cigarette hasn’t been confirmed nor has it been ruled out, and an electrical fire hasn’t been confirmed or ruled out,” Davis said.
The room where the fire started had several electric items, such as a television, heater, plug outlets, ceiling lights, light switches and a Christmas tree, Davis said.
That room also had a piece of something that investigators believe to be a fire alarm. But both Davis and Starkville Fire Chief Rodger Mann said investigators can’t tell whether it was working and aren’t even positive it was a fire alarm. Davis said it is badly melted and burned.
Whether or not that detector worked, Oktibbeha County residents have been rushing to get their hands on their own detectors. County fire officials have given away about 600 detectors over the last two weeks, said AK Rosenhan, Oktibbeha County’s fire services coordinator.
Last year, Davis received a $497,000 FEMA Safer Grant through the Department of Homeland Security that provided 35,000 smoke detectors for distribution. Rosenhan received “a trailer load and a car load” of detectors then. But he had a difficult time giving them away until Dec. 28. Now he’s run out, and he’s got a waiting list of people wanting one.
“We got the public’s attention,” Rosenhan said.
Davis already has applied for a $1 million grant to get even more detectors.
Finding new message
In addition to a focus on providing detectors and creating awareness, the state’s fire chiefs want to educate more adults.
“We’re talking to the senior citizens and we’re talking to the students in schools, but from young adults to senior citizens, we’re missing that entire group,” Mann said. “There is a huge gap we’re not reaching.”
One way to reach that group could be through commercials, as law enforcement has done with seatbelt and anti-drinking and driving campaigns.
“That takes funding, but that was an idea that was discussed and is something I’d like to see happen,” Davis said.
The group will work to develop a fire safety book that can be given to all of the state’s departments so that what they teach is consistent. Mann said a new message is also needed.
“We’ve had people say, ‘Change you’re smoke detector,'” Mann said. “It’s just not working. People just aren’t hearing that message any more. It’s up to the fire service to come up with a better plan.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal