It's often said that a photo speaks a thousand words. In my years as a photojournalist, I've found that some photos often speak a lot more.
One photo in particular served as a lesson in ethics whenever I trained a new staff writer. Contained in that black and white print was an older woman being comforted by a firefighter as the woman's granddaughter clung to her leg crying.
In the background was the remains of a house that had nearly burned to the ground. The firefighter had just informed the woman that her grandson had died in the fire.
The ethical question was whether the newspaper should've run the photo. The photographer who captured that image pushed to run it because the family didn't have working smoke detectors in their home.
It was his hope that the image would serve as a catalyst to convince others to ensure their homes not only had smoke detectors but took time to regularly change the batteries. It apparently took some convincing, but the editorial board chose to run it despite catching the family in a moment of tremendous grief.
That photo always stuck with me because the one thing that always terrified me as a child was getting trapped inside a burning home. That fear was reinforced in my mind several times in recent years when I was invited to join our city firefighters during live fire exercises in which they set actual structures on fire as part of their training.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports that it takes just two minutes for a fire to become life threatening. Because fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, the flames can fully engulf a residence in just five minutes.
Having been inside a home when it was intentionally set on fire, I can personally vouch for those statistics. It took a mere 30 seconds for the choking cloud of smoke to force me to go from a standing position to having to duck below the blinding cloud of smoke. I was already out of the homes before two minutes had elapsed, but I knew getting out would've been extremely difficult if our firefighters hadn't led me outside.
Contrary to what some people may believe, it's not the flames that tend to kill people. It's the poisonous smoke and gasses that cause them to become disoriented and drowsy.
In fact, asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire-related deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio, the U.S. Fire Administration reported.
This is why local fire departments and national fire protection agencies stress the importance of having working smoke detectors in every home. It's because three out of five home fire deaths involved homes and properties that didn't have working smoke detectors.
According to the American Red Cross, the risk of dying in a house fire is cut in half if your home has working smoke alarms. It also estimates that 890 lives could be saved each year if all homes had these types of alarms.
Notice that I said "alarms." It's because your chances of survival greatly increase if there are smoke detectors located on every level of your home in addition to having others located outside of each bedroom.
To provide the best possible defense, fire protection agencies also recommend having smoke detectors at the top of stairwells and in the kitchen, although you'll want to keep those away from the stove. Because smoke rises, it's always best to install each of them on the ceiling.
One thing I didn't realize until recently is that smoke detectors also have a limited lifespan. Even if you switch out the batteries regularly, a smoke detector usually has a maximum lifespan of 10 years.
To find out if a detector is still good, check the manufacturing date on the back of the detector. If it was built before 2006, you're better off replacing it.
While you're at it, the Mountain Home Fire Department also recommends that you also install carbon monoxide detectors in your home as well. Often called the "invisible killer," carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas created when certain fuels burn incompletely.
Those fuels include propane used in portable space heaters, natural gas in today's home furnaces and wood from fireplaces.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, carbon monoxide poisoning can often be misdiagnosed because the gas in smaller amounts can affect people over a long period of time. However, large doses can be equally fatal.
Because we can't detect the odor of this gas with our own senses, it can remain undetected.
Having these additional detectors in the home has proven very effective. In 2003, fire departments across the United States responded to nearly 41,000 calls in which carbon monoxide was found.
Seven years later, that number jumped to more than 80,000. The National Fire Protection Association attributes that spike to more people buying carbon monoxide detectors and installing them in their homes.
I know there are people out there focused on making a number of resolutions as the new year began on Sunday. Many of them want to lose weight or get back into shape. Others want to break bad habits or find ways to save money.
May I offer one more resolution to add to that list. Make it a goal to take a few minutes out of your day this week to check your smoke detectors, replace the batteries and ensure they haven't reached their "expiration date." If you don't have any smoke detectors in your home, please get with the Mountain Home Fire Department. They'll find ways to help you get this type of protection.
-- Brian S. Orban