Fire. It Could Happen to You.

An image of a burned out home in New Jersey.

Fire. It could happen to you.

Are you willing to risk your life if your home experiences a fire?

During the past 13 years, everywhere we turn, we see messages about life safety. Fire SafetyEarthquake SafetyTerrorism awarenessSee something, say something. Yet, with all of the educational messages, public service announcements, and informational resources, on average, 2,500 times a year people die in house fires. More than 13,000 people are injured annually as a result of fires — many of them scarred for the rest of their lives.

In Los Angeles, the City of Angels has already experienced 16 fatality fires in the first half of this year. Among those reported fatalities, a family of four died in an early morning fire in their converted barn/home. An older adult woman died in her apartment when a seemingly innocuous fire broke out in the late afternoon. A young man in his thirties died while napping. And most recently, an older adult died when fire rushed through his home in the late morning. A Los Angeles City firefighter was hospitalized while trying to rescue him, but too late. In nearly every case, there was no working smoke alarm to alert these people that their lives were in danger.

Our nature is to believe we control our environment and know it better than anyone else. This is in spite of demonstrable evidence that situations present themselves in which there is no control. Psychologist Ellen Langer came up with the phrase “Illusion of Control” to describe this human condition.

We see this illusion all around us. Walk into any casino and watch the “shooter” at a craps table rolling the dice. Most likely, they’ll be practicing the illusion of control: breathing on the dice or jiggling them in their hand before they make the toss. Sometimes, it works out and everyone gets paid. Eventually, even for the best players, their luck will run out. Yet, they maintain the illusion that overall, they control the dice.

Hand tossing dice on craps table

One thing that isn’t an illusion is the suite of statistics related to working smoke alarms. According to the United States Fire Administration and UL Labs, fire deaths have been cut in half since smoke alarms were introduced in the 1970s. During the past eight years, they’ve decreased an additional 30%, leading to conclusive evidence that the best way to survive a house fire is to maintain working smoke alarms.

Even with this understanding of how effective a smoke alarm is, more than five million homes are without working alarms. Millions more have non-functional alarms – either too old, or with the alarms disabled (often intentionally).

Today’s alarms are designed to be more “aware” of the environment. Depending on the make and type, they can detect heat, or smoke, or both. We’ve learned that smoke alarms don’t belong in kitchens, or in bathrooms, the most likely locations for false alarms.

The average cost of a smoke alarm is less than $20. If you live in a two story, three bedroom home, you should ideally have an alarm inside each sleeping area, outside those areas in the hallway, and one on each floor, with the upstairs alarm at the top of the stairs. Realistically, even with one alarm in each bedroom, and one on each floor, the cost for the set of alarms should be approximately $100. Most people can install them within minutes, but even professional installers or handy persons aren’t likely to charge more than the cost of the alarms to install them.

Is $200 worth your family’s safety?

We read about house fires every week in the various news outlets and fire department blogs. But most of us don’t know anyone whose home has burned down. Most of us have never experienced a fire in our home. The realistic chances that our home will burn are less than one percent when compared to the total number of homes and those that experience fires.

So, what’s the rush?

I’ve been told that a significant contributing factor for people not installing smoke alarms is their personal need to feel they are in control not only of their environment, but of their ability to make choices. Telling someone to install smoke alarms is a directive – not unlike clean your room, or do the dishes, or put that cigarette out.

My organization, The Safe Community Project (parent to MySafe:LA) has studied the “smoke alarm problem” and has determined there are some methods for creating a positive decision making process. We’ve taught fourth and fifth grade students to inspect their homes and to get their parents to prove their alarms are either working, or missing. In the event the home is without an alarm, we provided one at no charge. Our students are doing this because it’s fun and “grown up.” They care about their family’s safety. Once our students demonstrate an understanding of fire safety, we reward them with “Junior Fire Inspector” ID cards and have them awarded by their local firefighters. During the past two years, we’ve distributed nearly eight thousand smoke alarms (and/or batteries) to families in at-risk communities.

5th grade students and MySafe:LA ID cards

But what about homes without kids? Or, older adults living independently on their own? It’s a fantasy to believe people will let a stranger into their home to check on their safety and decision making abilities. Some will, but others not so much. People’s homes are their castle, even if they’re not well kept, are out of code, or house too many people. That’s the next trick for our team – to crack the mystery of “why” so many millions of people refuse to take that simple step that could save their lives.

The most important messages are simple. Fire burns. Smoke kills. That’s why these devices are called smoke alarms – to warn us about smoke in our home. To alert us to get out – and to stay out pending arrival of first responders. And make no mistake: It could happen to you.

So, roll the dice? Imagine the dealer at the craps table with a shotgun. If you lose, he shoots you. But, the choice is yours. You don’t even have to play the game. Given the odds, what choice would you make?

 *** Fire Burns. Smoke Kills™ is a trademark of The Safe Community Project and MySafe:LA.

Ralph M. Terrazas to be the new Chief of the LAFD

Photo of LAFD Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has named veteran assistant chief Ralph M. Terrazas to be the new Chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Mayor expects the City Council to affirm his appointment and if so, the new Fire Chief will officially take over the Department in early August. The Mayor’s selection follows a nationwide search, after which the Mayor stated, “I have decided there is no better person to cut response times, improve technology and bring reform to the Los Angeles Fire Department than Chief Terrazas.”

Raised in Los Angeles, Chief Terrazas has served the LAFD for 31 years, and during that time, has promoted to the current rank of Assistant Chief, overseeing South Division (the southern side of the city), as well as previous posts in the Community Liaison Office, Professional Standards, and other field operational positions. He will be the LAFD’s first Latino Fire Chief in a city with an estimated 48 percent Latino population*.

The board of directors and members of The Safe Community Project and MySafe:LA offer our congratulations to Chief Terrazas,” David Barrett, MySafe:LA’s executive officer commented following the Mayor’s introductory press conference. “He is a strong collaborator, and we’re eager to see what he and his team can do to make the LAFD shine as a leader in service delivery, technology, and community outreach.” The new Fire Chief is no stranger to innovation and outreach, as he is the owner of a patent for a fire service-related device, and earned a daytime Emmy for a fire prevention video.

Chief Terrazas lives in San Pedro with his wife and three children.

MySafe:LA, a unit of The Safe Community Project delivers fire and life safety education and awareness with a variety of partners, including the Los Angeles Fire Department.

*Source: 2013 Census Bureau Statistics

Five Reasons to Leave the Fireworks to Professionals

fireworks-promo-LG

Fireworks are considered a staple of American life when July the 4th comes around. The nation’s birthday is something to be proud of. The “rockets red glare” is part of our tradition and is a message for freedom. So, it’s natural to think that no matter what, grabbing some fireworks and joining in on the fun is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, statistics are proving that using fireworks yourself is indeed an act of no-brain (at work).

You’re heard all of the warnings. You probably don’t know anyone who died or was hospitalized due to an accident with fireworks, so you’re probably thinking you’re immune. Even if you personally have the Shield of Aegis around you, here are five reasons to leave the fireworks to professionals this year:

REASON ONE: It’s not you who will be hurt, but someone you know.

Even “safe and sane” fireworks are dangerous. They all use flammable components. Even if you’ve prepared all year to be safe with these miniature explosives, what about the other folks at your home? What happens when they blow their hand off? How will you feel then?

REASON TWO: Children are the most likely victims.

Every kid loves fireworks. And one of the most exciting things a kid will dream about is running around waving a sparkler and writing in the air with it. Fun! But, wait… Did you know that a simple, little wire with a combustible binder and some fuel on it burns at up to 1,800 degrees (f)? Water boils at 212 degrees (f). Would you let your child run around with an open pot of boiling water? Then why let them run around with something nearly ten times as hot?

REASON THREE: Do you love your pets or not?

Ask a kid what’s more important: a sparkler or the family pet? Dogs and cats HATE the noise and smell of fireworks. It can literally freak them out. They may get hurt – not just from improper usage of fireworks, but a pet cat or dog may bolt away from the source of the noise and run into the street and… Keep your pets indoors and in a safe, comfortable room. Have all of their ID materials handy in case they manage to get out and run away. If you love your pet, think twice before using fireworks.

REASON FOUR: Your “License” to perform hasn’t arrived in the mail yet.

Do you really think you can outperform today’s fireworks professionals? Setting up a professional fireworks show takes time, money, and real expertise. Two minutes of fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles can take up to three days to rig. A crew of five people or more wire it all together. And when the show begins, sophisticated software syncs a musical soundtrack (or matches a live orchestra) and a visual symphony takes place. So? Would you rather watch a hand-held Android phone movie or a 3D iMax sensation? The same is true for fireworks. Go for the pros.

REASON FIVE: Orange is the new Black. Are you ready to suit up?

You cannot reason your way around the fact that ALL FIREWORKS ARE ILLEGAL IN THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES – and in most Los Angeles County communities as well. Possession and/or use of fireworks within Los Angeles is a violation of Municipal Code 57.55.01A, or Section 12677 of the Health and Safety Code. Have you modeled your new orange jumpsuit for the wife yet? If not, don’t get started. Be a hero instead, and take the family to a professional fireworks show. There are dozens of shows in the greater Los Angeles area.

For additional information:

The Los Angeles Fire Department News and Information site

Safe July 4th Dot Org (MySafe:LA is a sponsor)

Los Angeles Department of Animal Services

 

MySafe:LA Earns Awards for Excellence in Video Production!

Style: "Neutral"

The MySafe:LA team was thrilled last week when we received news that we had won several awards for film production.

We nabbed three Telly Awards (tellyawards.com) – two Bronze and one coveted Silver Award – as well as two Awards of Merit from Indie Fest (indiefest.com).

We’re thrilled,” said Cameron Barrett, MySafe:LA’s Director of Education, who co-directed  and co-produced the award winning films. “We always put everything we’ve got into our educational films. We know our films speak to our audience and help kids and families learn how to live safer lives. But to have the industry recognize that in our work is truly wonderful.”

The Telly Awards recognized Calling 911, a short film about how the emergency dispatch system works in the city of Los Angeles, with a Bronze Telly in the safety category. Winning the top prize, a Silver Telly, in the same category was Family Escape Plan, a short film the MySafe:LA education team uses every day in schools all over Southern California. The film explains the importance of families creating an emergency escape plan at home. And garnering a Bronze Telly in one of the newest categories, Web Series, was Before the Barks (mysafela.org/before-the-barks), a multi-episode story that follows the careers of FEMA search and rescue dogs, from the time they’re chosen as puppies for this rigorous training, to their successes in searching for lost and trapped disaster victims.

Before the Barks is the creation of MySafe:LA Board Member Margaret Stewart, who is also a Los Angeles Firefighter, the Department’s K9 Coordinator, and a FEMA dog handler. “This is the first film I’ve ever been involved in,” said Stewart, who co-directs, co-produces, and co-writes the web series with Barrett. “After becoming a FEMA dog handler and learning firsthand how remarkable these dogs are, I knew I wanted to tell their story. I thought it would be a short film, a one-time thing. But once we started working on it, it became a real labor of love and we quickly realized this was a much bigger story. So we went ahead and created the series. We’re working on Episode 6 right now, and we’ll probably make 8 total.

Before the Barks also won an Award of Merit in the webisode category from Indie Fest. Also recognized by Indie Fest was the short film Junior Fire Inspector with an Award of Merit in the educational/instructional category. Junior Fire Inspector is a film the MySafe:LA education team uses to outline home safety inspection steps targeted fourth graders will take to earn their Junior Fire Inspector badges.

To watch the award-winning films and many more education shorts, you can visit MySafe:LA’s Vimeo Channel at vimeo.com/mysafela.

Preparing for Fire Service Recognition Day

Stacks of fire safety materials sit on a desk.

MySafe:LA contributes a wide array of fire and life safety materials on Fire Service Recognition Day in Los Angeles.

As part of our ongoing support for the Los Angeles Fire Department, MySafe:LA is busy preparing for Fire Service Recognition Day. On May 10th, every LAFD fire station will open its doors to invite the public in for a visit. It’s a terrific opportunity to meet the men and women of the Department, and to learn how they work diligently to save lives and property.

This year, MySafe:LA instructors will be teaching fire safety, hands-only CPR, and distributing FREE smoke alarms to people who need them. There are plenty of places to visit with the LAFD across the city. Our instructors will be at the following fire stations:

Fire Station 27 (Hollywood)
Fire Station 88 (Sherman Oaks)
Fire Station 65 (Watts) — CANCELLED
Fire Station 63 (Venice)
Fire Station 112 (San Pedro)

If you live close to Hollywood, come early and enjoy a fantastic pancake breakfast. The Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society is one of the coolest places any kids would ever want to visit – and this Saturday, they’ll be serving up a bunch of great food. The LAFD Historical Society and Museum is directly adjacent to Fire Station 27.

In the complex environment that is Los Angeles, this is a particularly important opportunity for you and your family to spend some time with firefighters. The LAFD has lost hundreds of firefighter positions due to the economic problems of a few years ago. As a result, firefighters are working longer hours and doing more with less. Soon, new recruits will begin to report to new assignments in fire stations, but until then, they need to know that you support them, so make sure you grab the family and spend some time with the LAFD this coming Saturday.

Felipe Fuentes Joins MySafe:LA to Teach Fire Safety

Los Angeles Councilmember Felipe Fuentes is standing in front of a group of students seated in an auditorium to discuss fire safety.

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes talks to students at Harding Elementary School about fire safety as part of a MySafe:LA FireSmart:LA presentation.

It’s a thrill when a community leader like Councilmember Felipe Fuentes joins MySafe:LA to teach fire safety to students. That’s exactly what took place last week at Harding Street Elementary School in Sylmar. The community is still dealing with the emotional scars of a house fire that claimed the lives of a family, including two students who attended (a different) school in the Sylmar area.

Councilmember Fuentes, MySafe:LA, First Alert, and the Los Angeles Fire Department collaborated on a special presentation for the 4th and 5th grade classes at Harding Street Elementary. The morning began with an enthusiastic discussion of the weather and wildfire dangers by Councilmember Fuentes. A resident of Sylmar himself, the councilmember delivered some excellent messages and connected well with the kids. This type of community involvement is something MySafe:LA is working to evolve further, as these are the parents and community leaders of tomorrow, and learning about civic and social responsibility is part of our overall messaging.

Fire Captain Jaime Moore, a Public Information Officer for the LAFD, along with the crew of Engine 91 added to the presentation, and as always, we were so pleased to have them there. The kids loved watching a firefighter suit up in his turnout gear and heard stories about the commitment firefighters make on a daily basis to ensure the safety of everyone in the community.

MySafe:LA instructors Chris Nevil, William Whitney, and Todd Leitz worked as a team, sharing some of our key messages. The students also watched videos, participated in interactive get low and go drills, and asked a lot of great questions.

The highlight of the presentation was helping to ensure these students homes would be safer in the event of a fire. Thanks to the terrific partnership with First Alert, every student present received a new combination smoke/CO alarm. Prior to the event, MySafe:LA delivered “pledge cards” to the school. Over the weekend, students took the cards home and inspected their residence for working smoke alarms. They completed the cards and returned them to MySafe:LA just prior to the presentation. MySafe:LA is gathering data from around the city to create a working map and analysis of smoke alarm implementation compared to where significant and fatal fires occur.

This event is just one example of how MySafe:LA and city leaders can work together to create a more aware and prepared community. Thanks Councilmember Fuentes! When’s our next appearance together?

Todd Leitz a Winner in Our Book!

Todd Leitz and friends at a club following his audition with the San Diego Padres

Todd Leitz (center) and his wife Tina (far left) celebrate with friends following his broadcast as PA announcer with the San Diego Padres on Saturday, April 18, 2014.

The Board of Directors for The Safe Community Project (parent organization for MySafe:LA) would like to congratulate Todd D. Leitz for his competitive and well balanced attempt to become the public address announcer for the San Diego Padres baseball club (a 2nd job opportunity on top of his MySafe:LA responsibilities). Todd was a runner-up in the competition with the Padres, but finished first in our subjective opinion.

Todd has been a Public Information Officer for MySafe:LA since 2012, and his focused, personable, and professional approach to community information sharing has been a tremendous asset to both MySafe:LA and The Safe Community Project. For those of you that don’t know Todd personally, he is a renaissance man – he is a baseball player, a singer, a voice over talent, a journalist, an emergency medical technician, a father and a husband. The opportunity to use his voice in the world of major league baseball was (and is) a dream come true for Todd. Our team has encouraged him from day one to challenge for those things he believes in – as we do with all of our people.

MySafe:LA sent two members to San Diego this past weekend to cheer Todd on as he competed for the part-time opportunity to announce player introductions and special information during Padres home games. As with everything he does, Todd took on the challenge with verve. The initial open audition drew more than 800 individuals, some from as far away as New Hampshire. Todd made the cut – and was part of the next round, and the next, and finally, to the top three. During this process, he had the opportunity to call an entire game during the regular season, so part of the mission was accomplished.

The eventual winner, Alex Miniask, is a New Hampshire resident (well, until this coming week), and proved to be a tough competitor. Still, Todd hasn’t really lost out – he can now easily continue to do the things that fill his week: teaching fire and life safety, communications for MySafe:LA, playing baseball, singing in a band, and cooking, not to mention enjoying time with his wife and daughters! Well done, Todd.

Smoke Alarm Podcast Now Available

Firefighters inside burning high rise.

Firefighters assemble in a smoke-filled corridor in a high rise during a training exercise. Image taken from video shot by Cameron Barrett.

MySafe:LA is pleased to commence our smoke alarm podcast with Episode #13 of our fire and life safety series. With more than 20 fatalities on average in any given year in Los Angeles, this is a topic that should be of value to anyone living in LA – or anywhere for that matter. This podcast is part of our Fire Burns, Smoke Kills fire safety awareness effort. It’s all part of being FireSmart:LA.

Our smoke alarm podcast series is designed to share perspective on using these important life saving devices – what are they, who needs one, how many do you need?, and how can we use them without being annoyed?

Our initial podcast (Episode #13), NOW AVAILABLE, is with noted national fire safety expert Meri-K-Appy. MySafe:LA Executive Officer David Barrett speaks with Meri-K about some of the key issues facing people who do not have a working smoke alarm. The dangers are greater than ever before, so this is a podcast worth listening to.

During the coming week, we’ll provide additional podcasts with national experts that cover important fire safety and smoke alarm related topics, including:

  • Smoke alarms and people with mobility issues
  • The technical stuff: Why are there so many types of smoke alarms?
  • The future of smoke alarms – will they call you at work?

We’ll also add in several fun topics that make the issue of using a smoke alarm less stressful, while still creating a safe environment for your home.

To get started, click here and enjoy the first podcast.

Smoke Alarms: Why Do People Continue to Die in House Fires?

[ Updated March 6, 2014 ] During the first nine weeks in Los Angeles, 11 people have died in house fires. In every one of those incidents, not one functional smoke alarm was found. Overall, on average more than 20 people per year have died over the course of the past four years in L.A. And, this year, we’re on track to more than double those numbers. Those are pretty tough statistics, and officials in Los Angeles want the trend to stop. The LAFD is sharing information along with UFLAC, the AIFF, and other agencies to warn people about living in homes without working smoke alarms.

burned out home

A burned out bedroom in a home without a working smoke alarm.

The LAFD is also working with MySafe:LA to distribute smoke alarms to people in need, and to get fast facts (called “15 Minutes of Safety” by the LAFD) into the hands of 5th grade students. In addition, whenever a significant incident occurs in LA, firefighters will canvas the adjacent streets and help get the word out that smoke alarms save lives. Free alarms will be provided to people without them, and who complete a “pledge” to maintain them. MySafe:LA contributed 3,500 smoke alarms to the city via its partnership with First Alert.

Unfortunately, just as cars run red lights and experience collisions, telling people to use a smoke alarm isn’t enough. The efforts put forth by smoke alarm companies and fire agencies such as First Alert, the LAFD, and others, including MySafe:LA are a start, but more needs to be done. It’s a complicated issue, and understanding what others have discovered is a good place to start.

An NFPA study from 2011 demonstrated that the fire fatality rate in homes without smoke alarms is twice as high as those with functional alarms. Other studies put the overall rate at 66 percent. That means that Los Angeles is demonstrating a frightening trend, with more than 90 percent of fatalities occurring in homes without working alarms. At the same time, telephone surveys done by the NFPA in multiple years have indicated that 96 percent of homeowners claim to have at least one working smoke alarm. This has led numerous researchers to doubt the validity of “self reporting” statistics on this topic. A comprehensive study published by InjuryPrevention.BMJ.com in 2012 provided excellent statistics about the validity and reasons behind over-reporting of smoke alarm use.

This doesn’t mean that people are lying, although there are clearly people who think giving a positive answer is “pleasing” and makes them look good. What it does mean without question is that the smoke alarm issue is complex. Poor placement, number of devices required, types of power sources, longevity of power, and the context in which they’re used affects the outcome: people dying in fires where properly placed, properly powered, properly categorized smoke alarms might have saved them.

melted smoke alarm

Just having an alarm isn’t enough. The alarm must be maintained and tested regularly to ensure it works.

There are really two issues that are central to the “smoke alarm” issue. The first is getting working alarms into the home and ensuring they’re functional and properly placed. The second is understanding the issues that were in play for those people who did die in fires despite a working alarm. We know the most common reasons for the latter: people, either due to age or disability were not able to hear the alarm when it was triggered by fire.

There are other factors to consider as well. The time it takes for a fire to go from first ignition to “flashover,” when the whole room bursts into flame, has fallen dramatically. This means the window of opportunity to get outside to safety is much smaller than it used to be. In 1980, when smoke alarms really began to find acceptance due to their affordability, a family might have as long as 15 minutes to escape before conditions inside the home became deadly. In those days, the content within the home included wood, metal, glass, and paper. Today, the content in our homes is often plastic and synthetics. These items burn hotter and faster, and contribute to a deadly atmosphere of smoky poisons. Today, researchers estimate the time to escape a home fire safely is approximately three minutes. So, why doesn’t everyone maintain working smoke alarms?

Example of Flashover

Flashover occurs when the majority of the exposed surfaces in a space are heated to their autoignition temperature and emit flammable gases. Flashover normally occurs at 500 °C (930 °F) or 1,100 °F for ordinary combustibles.

Frankly, many people believe smoke alarms are a pain in the neck. A study done by our friends at Kelton Global revealed that 61 percent of people surveyed have allowed their smoke alarms to remain in place without a working battery. The paradox comes into play when people admit a working alarm is an important element to home safety. A gap analysis conducted by AARP regarding general home safety found 98 percent of all participants (ages 18-49 as well as 50 plus) reported, “a working smoke alarm on every floor is important or very important.”

Multiple studies are revealing that nearly everyone believes a working smoke alarms are important, but not everyone has them. Why not?

It may be that many people don’t understand the issues involved with placement or maintaining them. Worse, there are so many variables in alarms today, and the laws differ from state to state, so focusing in on the key issues is necessary if we’re to close the gap on the residences that remain unprotected – and that means a defined percentage with an alarm in place. It’s just in the wrong spot, doesn’t work, is the wrong kind, or is too old.

Vision 20/20, a collaborative project that brings national fire safety organizations including MySafe:LA together with fire marshals and fire agencies, published an important report on smoke alarms and the resulting complexity of their use in January 2014. The report is a useful tool relative to the issue of smoke alarms and their effectiveness because it combines the outcome of multiple reports and creates a baseline from which fire responder agencies and even the manufacturers of smoke alarms can begin to better identify the most at-risk audiences.

No report, not even from the esteemed Vision 20/20 people, USFA, FEMA, or NFPA can solve the problem. But they can collaboratively share research data that will help us work more effectively on reducing fire fatalities.

MySafe:LA provides free smoke alarms to people in need in Los Angeles. In 2013, our organization provided several thousand free alarms to families in south central and the San Fernando Valley. Already in January of this year, in collaboration with First Alert, we’ve arranged for 3,500 alarms to be provided to the Los Angeles Fire Department for distribution to the public. The MySafe:LA team will deliver thousands more directly to families and older adults.

In our case, we don’t just give them away. We deliver a very successful program for students called the Jr Fire Inspector program. Our instructors go into schools and teach 4th and 5th grade students to inspect their homes for working alarms and other fire dangers. We spend multiple visits (more than 3 hours total) with these eager students in at-risk neighborhoods, provide them with the materials they need, and our school partners treat the process as homework.

5th grade students and their Jr. Fire Inspector ID cards

Students show off their Jr. Fire Inspector ID Cards as part of the MySafe:LA Smoke Alarm initiative.

After the students have completed their inspections and on request, we provide a free alarm and working batteries. The engagement with the students helps establish a basis upon which installation of the alarms and maintenance of them is encouraged. MySafe:LA is currently in the midst of additional research to determine the status of those alarms a year after they were delivered and will publish results later this year. We’re now delivering a similar program with older adults and we’ll provide not only alarms, but installation support as well. We view this as essential, as older adults (over 55 years of age) are more than twice as likely to die as a result of fire than any other age group.

MySafe:LA recognizes the importance of ensuring alarms are working, are in the right locations, and are the right type. To that end, our new “installation cadre” will work with specific audiences, including church groups, schools, and community associations to ensure these alarms are making a difference – keeping people alive (by notifying them to escape) when they experience a fire in their home.

We’re also working to establish a better understanding of what smoke alarms can do and the benefits of keeping them working. We’re managing a study that will help others use the data we gather to create more awareness and hopefully results.

The first step is a new educational podcast series that will launch this coming week. We’ll teach people about the dangers associated with the lack of an alarm, the technology of alarms, the issues faced by people who are young or old, disability issues, and much more. We’re also producing new video and web content to help people take action to help themselves as part of our new “Fire Burns – Smoke Kills” smoke alarm campaign. The questions related to why people are dying in fires and the impact smoke alarms have must be answered. And the answer starts with you – if you live in a building of any type, you are doing yourself and your family a favor by ensuring you have working smoke alarms.

A Reminder from the San Fernando Earthquake.

Brown Bomber Ambulance under a bridge following the Sylmar earthquake of 1971.

A Reminder from the San Fernando Earthquake… Don’t Forget me! Too often, when it comes to earthquakes, we tend to forget. Tomorrow is the 43rd anniversary of the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake. More commonly referred to as the Sylmar Earthquake, it was a major event in Southern California. Without any recorded preshocks, the thrust earthquake measured 6.6 on the Richter scale, and was considered a XI or “extreme” on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. A total of 58 people died directly as a result of the quake, but in 1971, deaths from related causes, such as heart attacks, were not included. As such, it is estimated that the total death toll exceeded 70 persons.

The geological makeup of the San Fernando Valley and the adjacent Santa Susana Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and the Verdugo Mountains created interesting boundaries relative to ground movement and damage. With the most significant damage to buildings in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley, including Sylmar, most attention from the media was focused there. The famous collapse of the Olive View and Veteran’s Hospitals are what people immediately think of when this quake is mentioned.

What isn’t easily remembered is the impact the quake had below the surface of the valley. Underground water, sewer, and gas systems were shattered, nearly literally. There were too many breaks to count, and it took months to restore services to the level that existed on February 8, 1971. Because this was a thrust fault, the ground was literally uplifted, creating a ripple effect that spread across the floor of the valley. Sideways and roadways were cracked, and in fact were impacted with greater breath of damage than the quake’s shift in the underlying soil. And it was the earth itself and set the stage for the most significant damage: to area hospitals.

The collapsed hospital after the Sylmar quake of 1971.

The Olive View Hospital complex was owned by LA County in 1971. 880 beds for patients represented a major hospital campus, yet most of the buildings had been developed prior to the post 1933 Long Beach earthquake construction updates. The buildings more significantly damaged were made of wood or masonry construction. The five story reinforced concrete Medical Treatment and care Building was one of the newest, yet it sustained significant damage. Three deaths occurred in this building.

Most of the deaths were within the Veterans hospital complex. Four buildings totally collapsed, and others partially broke apart. Most of the buildings constructed after 1933 withstood the shaking and did not collapse.

The Van Norman Dam sustained significant damage, including a landslide that dislocated a section of the dam’s embankment. Thankfully, the dam did not collapse overall, but had it, 80,000 people would have been directly in its path.

Substantial disruption to about ten miles of the freeways in the northern San Fernando Valley took place with most of the damage occurring at the Foothill Freeway / Golden State Freeway interchange and along a five mile stretch of Interstate 210. On Interstate 5, the most significant damage was between the Newhall Pass interchange on the north end and the I-5 / I-405 interchange in the south, where subsidence at the bridge approaches and cracking and buckling of the roadway made it unusable.

Collapsed freeway overpass after Sylmar in 1971.

Although there were changes made to engineering requirements and lawmakers worked to improve legislation, not only for construction but research, time proved to be an enemy of preparedness. Because the legal and political process can at times be sluggish, fear and interest in earthquake readiness had subsided by the time certain measures were brought to the floor for process. One measure that did get enacted was the The Hospital Seismic Safety Act that called for the application of medical facility safety standards to all new hospital construction.

Perhaps the most important advance was the the Alquist-Priolo Geologic Hazard Zones Act. Signed into law in December of 1972, the legislation had the goal of reducing damage and losses due to surface fault ruptures. The act restricts construction of buildings designed for human occupancy across a fault that is known to be active. The state geologist is responsible for mapping well-defined faults that have evidence of surface faulting within the last 11,000 years and creating regulatory zones with relation to the potentially active faults.

Today, that exact issue is at the center of the Hollywood Millenium project. Where are the faults in Holllywood – are they properly surveyed? Are the proposed towers within 100 feet of an active or known fault? The investigation continues, but the worry is wider than just a single construction project.

Despite everything Southern California has experienced in the past 150 years, and despite the best efforts of lawmakers, CalTech, and the USGS, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of buildings in Southern California that are considered unsafe – meaning they will likely collapse if an earthquake anything like San Fernando or Northridge occur. And a repeat of those quakes is a certainty. It may be a week, or it may be 30 years, but the ground will move, and with it, thousands of lives are at stake.