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Fire Prevention Month is October, but work continues year-round at Oklahoma City Fire Department

October is Fire Prevention Month, but the men and women of the Oklahoma City Fire Department's Fire Prevention division work year-round to keep citizens safe and property intact.

Code enforcement, public education and fire investigation all fall under the supervision of fire marshal and Deputy Chief Kellie Sawyers.

Plan examiners help builders and contractors in the development phase and district inspectors field complaints and make sure existing businesses are still within code.

“When a business wants to build a building, they submit plans to the development center. They look at the plans and say, this is what you have to have in the building,” Capt. Rick Jackson said.

“District inspectors have a certain area of the city and ... on an annual basis go out and check the tags for these systems and make sure that they're current,” he said.

And then there are code enforcement officers like Jackson who handle new construction.

“We go out there and test everything. We have to meet contractors. Basically, we run through a test of all their building systems and we make sure everything works,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Capt. Dustin Renner are in new construction and spent the morning of Sept. 5 inspecting Maywood II, 100 NE 4, a new apartment building downtown.

Code enforcement

The code enforcement officers split up, checking every smoke alarm on all four floors, then sounding the alarm and making sure it's audible in all the units.

Then alarms are set off individually with fake smoke to confirm that the control panel on the ground floor is registering in the correct locations.

The entire inspection for a building that size takes about two hours.

“Most of us have spent time as a firefighter in the field doing that, which really helps because when you come over here you kind of have a different perspective on how fire works and what's really a life safety issue and what's not because you can't make everything perfect,” Jackson said.

“If everything was perfect, nobody would be able to afford to do it, so you try to get in the center and try to make things as safe as you can for everybody.”

Said Renner: “I can help keep everyone safe, even on the fire department. If I keep those guys from rolling, if I can keep those guys safe, if I keep them in bed at night, where they're not missing out on sleep, then we've done our job. Big fires made smaller, small fires maybe not made at all.”

Public education

In the public education branch of the department, Capt. Greg Bradford is getting set up for his presentation to a group of Northwood Elementary Students that afternoon.

He brings with him a trailer set up like a kitchen and bedroom of a home, providing visual and hands-on demonstrations to children at school.

“All the kids we know live around this area because they go to this school. So that means they're going to live within a certain radius of the fire station which is closest — which in this case is 32 — they would be the ones responding, so that way the kids wouldn't be as scared,” Bradford said.

“The age group that we're seeing more often that are playing with matches and lighters — namely lighters, matches are kind of obsolete — are 7- and 8-year-olds, so we used to do the third-grade classes, and now we do second grade,” he said.

The kids are led into the trailer by class, and sit in amphitheater-style seating on one end of the faux kitchen while firefighters take them through a presentation about various aspects of fire safety.

Keep pot handles facing inward on the stove, so younger siblings don't knock them off the stove or onto themselves Keep chemicals out of reach, which they may mistake for their favorite beverages. And don't put metal in microwaves.

There's also an explanation between tools, like cigarette lighters and hammers, and toys.

A refresher on “stop, drop and roll” is administered before the kids are herded into the back room of the trailer, made up like a mock bedroom.

“This is set up like a house because all the fire safety we're going to talk about is usually in the home. More often, most fires occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is when these kids are asleep,” Bradford said.

A fog machine pumps “smoke” into the room, and the kids are taught to touch the bedroom door with the back of their hand. In the trailer, the bedroom door is heated to emulate fire on the other side.

The children drop to their knees and crawl underneath the smoke and out the trailer's window and toward a tree outside, which for today doubles as their “meeting place.”

“It's mandated by the state that they have to do a fire drill once a month. We would like to bring that further and let them know that they need to do fire drills at home. Even though we do them here at school doesn't mean that we know what to do whenever we're at home,” Bradford said.

Public education also teaches fire safety classes for businesses and seniors, and run a “youth fire setters” program to interdict children whose curiosity about fire may have gotten the better of them.

Another point of public education pride is Project Life, which takes donated money from an annual 5k run to purchase smoke detectors.

“We basically raise money to buy smoke alarms to give free to the public. So it's not a tax deal, it's not a grant given from anybody. We actually raise the money to support the Oklahoma City citizens,” Bradford said.

Fire investigators

And the final branch of the fire prevention services is the fire investigators, who, like firefighters, also work 24-hour shifts.

Oklahoma City investigators work three people to a shift on four different shifts under the supervision of District Chief Randy Williams.

Both code enforcement and investigators also are CLEET-certified peace officers, which means they can and often do carry pistols and protective vests.

One of their major jobs is to determine the cause of fires, whether natural, accidental, incendiary, or simply indeterminable.

In acts of arson, they also are the ones to make arrests.

We'll catch back up with investigators, “the fire police,” during the fourth part of Open House.

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