October 7th marks the beginning of National Fire Prevention Week, and this is an appropriate time to remind everyone about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), in 2010, one home structure fire was reported every 85 seconds. And, while this statistic is startling, my first hand experience of being jolted from sleep at 3 a.m., literally hit home, when someone banged on my apartment door shouting “fire!”
A resident who was smoking a cigarette on the couch and fell asleep started the fire in my apartment building. As a survivor of that fire, I know about the lingering and devastating affect fires can have. Moreover, it was a wakeup call for me (no pun intended). After surviving that fire—where I lost most of my personal property, but thankfully sustained no physical injuries, I became actively involved with the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN). I shouted for joy when Wisconsin passed the smoke-free law in 2010. This was not just a great piece of legislation because of the devastating effects smoking cigarettes and second hand smoke have on one’s health, but I understand the emotional toll survivors of fires must overcome when the one space you are supposed to feel safe and secure—home—is compromised because of the carelessness of cigarette smokers!
Fires caused by smoking materials are the leading cause of home fires. The NFPA reports that smoking materials started an estimated 7,500 home structure fire, resulting in 540 deaths, 1,320 injuries and $535 million in direct property damage (www.firepreventionweek.org, 2010 statistics).
National Fire Prevention Week is a great opportunity for us to proactively address the issue of smoking cigarettes with our family, friends, co-workers and relatives. This week of fire prevention awareness is not just about a cute slogan; it is a reality that too many people live. It is also a good opportunity for us to talk to our young people about the dangers of smoking cigarettes, as we encourage those who smoke to quit!