Alcohol, smoking fuels fire deaths

Kelly Mills

Smoking can pose a more immediate danger than lung cancer. Drinking can prove more deadly than liver disease.

Fire safety tips:

• Avoid abusing alcohol or other drugs, especially while smoking.

• Make sure that your home is equipped with working smoke alarms and that alarms are tested at least monthly.

• Use only a deep-dish ashtray with a solid base and never allow it to rest on the arm of upholstered furniture.

• Douse cigarettes or ashtray contents with water before disposing of them in the trash.

• Never smoke in bed or allow other family members or guests in your home to smoke in bed.

Source: State Fire Marshall

A recent study by the U.S. Fire Administration found that alcohol abuse and smoking, especially combined, increase the risk of fire deaths. The study found that more than half of alcohol-related fire deaths were the result of careless smoking.

Shane Cartmill, public information officer for the division of the state fire marshal, said there were 21 smoking-related fire deaths in Ohio in 2004 causing a total of $14 million in damage.

Although smoking can be the ignition source for a fire, Cartmill said drinking can contribute to impaired judgment.

“College kids obviously drink a lot and have fun,” he said. “When that fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, are you going to make the best decision if you are impaired?”

Kent Fire Chief James Williams said that the best way to avoid problems after a party is to have someone clean up. Like a designated driver, there should be someone who remains sober enough to walk through the house and properly dispose of any cigarettes and douse all ashtrays, he said.

Edward Moisio, university fire prevention and safety coordinator, said couches could be an easy place for smoking fires to start. During a party, a cigarette butt can get lost between the couch cushions and smolder for hours before igniting.

Moisio said there have been 38 fire alarms so far this year, a considerable decrease from last year.

“We had the Allyn fire, but we’ve also had several near misses that could have been bad if our system hadn’t caught them in time,” he said.

Moisio said he has been educating fraternities and sororities about the dangers of alcohol and smoking in relation to fire safety. He tells students to watch for overcrowding, keep exits open and not disable smoke detectors.

He said the most disturbing statistic about alcohol- and smoking-related fires is the high incidence on college campuses.

“Ohio leads the nation since 2001 in off-campus fire deaths,” he said. “Every one has been attributed to smoking and drinking.”

Williams said alcohol- and smoking-related fires are relatively uncommon around the Kent area. Although there are many fires without a known cause, he said the last fire death attributed to alcohol and smoking was in the early 1980s.

Contact public affairs reporter Kelly Mills at [email protected].