Fire tragedies offer painful lessons for the rest of us

January 20, 2010 10:00:00 AM

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The community has not had time to recover from the loss of nine people -- six of them small children -- in an apartment fire in Starkville. 

 

But Tragedy doesn''t wait for open wounds to heal before taking its next victims. 

 

Four young Mississippi University for Women students died Saturday in a hotel fire in Hoover, Ala. 

 

Turning back the hands of time and grasping these precious lives from the clutches of Death is not an option. 

 

But we can all learn from the tragedies. 

 

Lesson No. 1: Always have an escape plan. 

 

It''s a fire safety rule of thumb. And during an emergency is not the best time to evaluate one. 

 

When fire engulfs a room, a building and traps you in its path, there''s less clarity, less time to plan an elaborate escape. 

 

So think about it beforehand. 

 

Have an evacuation plan for your home, your job. Know the plans; practice escape routes. 

 

Test fire detectors periodically, and replace the batteries. 

 

When you''re out of town enjoying the company of your best friends -- as Jaslynn McGee, Alondan Turner, Jamelia Brown and Catherine Muse were before Saturday''s fire -- checking the back of your hotel door for an escape plan and making sure there are batteries in the smoke detector are not on your priority list. 

 

However, the few seconds it takes to review or request an evacuation plan at a hotel and to take a look at the fire alarm could be life-saving. 

 

Fire departments randomly check hotel rooms during inspections; they don''t inspect occupied rooms. And an occupant before you could have taken the batteries out of the smoke detector to smoke in a non-smoking room or to keep it from going off while they''re cooking. 

 

Lesson No. 2: Escape, whatever it takes. 

 

"You can jump out of a second-story building," offered Carole Summerall, fire and life safety educator with the Columbus Fire Department. 

 

On average, it takes the Columbus Fire Department two to four minutes to respond to a call -- a seemingly short time. 

 

But fire doubles its size every 30 seconds, Summerall noted. So in two to four minutes an entire room, an entire building floor could be consumed. 

 

Sometimes, all the precaution in the world can''t prevent catastrophe. But that shouldn''t keep us from buckling our seat belts.  

 

Our lives seem far too busy, distracted by the here and now, to worry with planning for what essentially is an unplannable event. 

 

But our lives -- and the lives of our children, friends, loved ones -- are too precious not to.