Fire disasters are a part of American history. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, The Winecroft Hotel, the World Trade Center…each a sad chapter in our national history. Reflection and study of these disasters yields the same basic conclusion, fire tragedies are best limited by proactive measures.
In 1972 a report was commissioned by the President to study the fire problem in America. This report, America Burning, concluded that prevention was the key to improving fire safety. As a result, many fire departments, who had previously given little attention to fire prevention, became involved in proactive fire management.
The Prevention Triad
- Code Enforcement
- Public Education
- Fire Investigation
Under the direction of the Fire Marshal, the Prevention Division reviews plans and performs inspections of buildings under construction. This assures that the building has the built-in safety features that make it inherently fire safe. Then inspections are performed on all existing buildings to make sure fire safety features are maintained. This is the essence of fire code enforcement.
The second way to affect the outcome of a fire before it occurs is to educate the public on how to prevent a fire or respond to it. Each year the fire department gives hundreds of presentations to Leawood school children on the importance of smoke detectors and home escape plans. The Fire Marshal also teaches classes to area employers on how to use fire extinguishers and evacuate buildings.
The last leg of the triad is fire investigation. The purpose of investigating fires is to understand where and how the fire started. In some cases this involves a finding of arson. More often it reveals negligence and the Fire Marshal’s report is pivotal in any subsequent litigation. In addition to the Fire Marshal, there are a number of firefighters trained in fire investigation who can perform fire cause analysis and reporting.
The Leawood Fire Code allows three types of solid fuel open burning:
For Cooking Purposes:
Outside burning is allowed for cooking purposes at one and two family dwellings (not apartment buildings), only so long as it occurs in a non combustible container and the fuel load NEVER exceeds four pieces of wood, 18 inches in length. (kindling additional) Propane and LPG cooking fires in listed cooking appliances are also acceptable outside at all occupancies.
For Construction Purposes:
Outside burning for land-clearing operations is allowed but requires a permit and has stringent contact the Fire Marshal.
Outside burning of scrap wood is allowed at construction sites so long as the burning occurs in a single barrel which is kept 20 feet from other combustibles.
Bonfires or other ceremonial fires are allowed, but require a permit. If the planned fire exceeds the size allowed under “cooking fires” above, it requires this permit. No more than 30 cubic feet of fuel is allowed and other conditions must be met which safeguard the public interest. Contact the Fire Marshal for more information.
Even allowed burning, if it becomes a significant air quality degradant, traffic hazard or public nuisance can be disallowed and ordered to be extinguished. The right of anyone to burn outside is always subordinate the neighborhood’s right to enjoy a safe and smoke-free environment.
Not Allowed – Burning of yard waste.
Do I need a carbon monoxide detector?
Unless your house is all-electric (no gas appliances), the answer is yes. Carbon monoxide poisoning is often lethal and most homes have the potential for this tragedy.
How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need?
At least one for each area of your home that is served by a different furnace and/or water heater. Some large homes have zoned heating systems and need more than one. Also take into account who in the house is most likely to be home and who is capable of understanding the alarm and responding to the situation. Put the detector in their room.
Where should a carbon monoxide detector be placed?
Near where you sleep. Carbon monoxide victims are usually sleeping and fall victim to the odorless gas without ever awakening.
Don’t I need one in the furnace room, since that’s where the gas appliances are located?
No, detecting carbon monoxide in the room where it originates would be of little value unless you heard the alarm where you were located. Further, it’s possible the gas will not be located there but instead will be directly distributed by the house’s ductwork.
Where should I place a detector once I’ve selected the best area?
You should install it according the directions that come with it. Generally, placement of a carbon monoxide detector is not as critical as a smoke detector. This is because carbon monoxide emergencies develop more slowly and the gas does not rise nor fall relative to surrounding air. It is important however to place it where it can get a good representative sample of room air not be blocked from access to the room’s atmosphere.
If my carbon monoxide alarm sounds, what should I do?
If you feel ill, go outside first, then call 9-1-1.
If you do not feel ill or light-headed, open doors and windows and let fresh air in. Then see if you can readily determine the source of the problem and contact the appropriate repair person. Focus on which gas appliance was operating at the time.
Five quick steps to make your family safe:
- Make sure your smoke detectors work. Test them regularly. It is the single best thing you can do to improve your chances of surviving a fire in your home. See the “smoke detector” section of this website for more detailed information.
- Sleep with your bedroom doors closed. This prevents smoke and fire from entering your bedrooms before your family is awakened by the smoke detectors. Smoke, itself, will not reliably wake you up.
- Prepare a second escape route from your bedroom. You will need this if you can’t escape by the normal route. Make sure it is realistic and workable. Practice it to be sure. Focus on getting to fresh air. Remember, smoke and heat go up. Stay near the floor for the best air. You may want to buy an escape ladder and keep it under your bed if your bedrooms are above ground level. Do all these things for your children as well.
- Buy a big lid that will cover all your pots and pans. Keep it in your kitchen where it can be quickly grabbed. If a pan catches fire, never attempt to move it. Just cover it up with the lid and turn the stove off.
- Buy and keep a fire extinguisher near your kitchen. Mount it on the wall so it won’t get lost. Get the smallest all-purpose unit that has a hose.
The Leawood Fire Department offers free home visits to help you identify hazards in your home, and suggest ways to remedy them. We can also give you suggestions for making your fire escape plan. The service is free and confidential, and all safety recommendations are voluntary. Let us help you make your home hazard free!
To schedule your home visit, contact Fire Marshal Gene Hunter at (913) 266-0607
How many smoke detectors do I need?
Answer: Install smoke detectors in this order of priority and that will tell you how many to install.
- Outside bedrooms
- On each level of the house
- Inside bedrooms
Also, for a smoke detector to work properly, it has to be located where it will encounter the smoke as soon as possible. Therefore it needs to be on the ceiling, near the center of the room but away from fans. If it must be put on a wall, it should be at least 4 inches but not more than a foot down from the ceiling.
Where should I NOT install smoke detectors?
- In the kitchen
- In the garage
- In a bathroom or just outside of it
- Any place where dust, fumes or steam is likely to be present
Are there different types of smoke detectors and which are the best?
Smoke detectors differ by operating principle and power source. So there are Ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors. Ionization are quicker at detecting flaming fires while photoelectric are better at detecting smoldering fires. Combination units (both types in a single unit are now available and recommended).
There has been some controversy lately about the types of smoke detectors and the real answers are complex. Just remember than either type is far, far better than none.
Also important is whether they are hardwired to the house electricity or battery powered. Hardwired are generally more reliable and most new hardwired detectors also have a battery as back up power. This is a very good combination.
What are interconnected smoke detectors?
Interconnected smoke detectors communicate with each other so that when one senses smoke, they all sound. This is the surest way of getting the early warning of a fire that is essential for adequate escape time.
Newly built houses in the last ten years have been built with interconnected smoke detectors installed in them.
How long do smoke detectors last?
About 10 years. If yours are old and yellowed and more than ten years old you should test them regularly and plan to replace them before long.
When I replace my smoke detectors what should I look for in replacement units?
The best smoke detector would be a hardwired, interconnected, dual sensor smoke detector with battery-back up. It would be U.L listed. Now there are interconnected smoke detectors which communicate with each other wirelessly-doing away with the need to run wires in your walls.
These won’t be the cheapest, but adding smoke detectors should be a thoughtful endeavor-hopefully not revisited again for a decade. There are even units now available that will tell you where the fire located valuable information in an emergency.
There are also combination smoke detector AND carbon monoxide detector units available. This is also a good innovation because it reduces the number of gadgets hanging around on your ceiling and walls.
I have a home security system with smoke detectors included. Is that adequate?
Alarm system type detectors are as good as any. However, often there are not enough of them installed to cover the house adequately. Also you may have regular hardwired smoke detectors and/or battery powered ones in addition to the alarm system. No combination of detector types harms the function of any though they cause some confusion when they sound. Just remember to exit the house, then come back in and check to see if there is a fire. When you update your detectors is a good time to retire old units of a different type.
My smoke detectors are sounding but I can’t smell any smoke or find a problem, should I be worried that there is a hidden fire somewhere?
No. There is nothing magic about a smoke detector’s ability to sense a fire. It detects particulate matter in the air in concentrations you could smell and see if you were awake and near the source. If you can’t smell the smoke or find a fire after you’ve looked completely through the house you can be confident that you’re experiencing a false alarm.
If I need help installing a smoke detector, can I call the fire department?
Yes. But please only call the fire department if you are NOT an able bodied adult-or if you are experiencing special difficulty after trying the installation yourself. Installing and maintaining smoke detectors is an important task, but should be handled like any essential house maintenance. The same of course is true for changing your smoke detector batteries.
Does the fire department give away smoke detectors?
Yes, but again, only in special cases where it is apparent the need is unlikely to be met by normal means. In the past certain charities have provided us with inexpensive smoke detectors at no cost. Now, more expensive detectors are recommended and we have no free source for them. Typically we assist seniors who don’t’ have family or friends to help them.
Fire Marshal Gene Hunter and Captain Frank Herrick are trained in evaluating and counseling juvenile firesetters.
Philosophy – Early intervention with children can sometimes prevent recurring fire play and/or an escalation in fire setting behaviors leading to serious safety and legal problems. Moreover, it is known that children set fires for different reasons. Sometimes the firesetting is grounded in normal learning and curiosity whereas in other children the firesetting behavior is indicative of larger problems in the child’s life.
- Referral – Parents may self-refer their child that is displaying undo curiosity about fire and/or has been involved in inappropriate fire play whether mischievous or innocent. Johnson County Court Services also refers juveniles who have been charged with arson-related charges and who qualify for diversion or structured probation.
- Initial Interview – An initial interview is conducted to determine details of the incident and the background of the child. A determination is then made as to whether the level of counseling the Fire Department can do is adequate to the situation or additional referral to counseling professionals is necessary.
- Lecture and Homework – Frank and Gene will then structure an age-appropriate curriculum to help the child understand the nature of fire and the actual and potential consequences of firesetting.
Click any of the links below for more information about fire safety or fire safety products. The Leawood Fire Department does not endorse any specific brand, company, or website. These links are provided merely to assist you.
- USFA Kids – a site from the U.S Fire Administration for kids and adults to learn about fire safety.
- Safe Kids – a site for adults to learn and teach about all-hazards child safety.
- Residential Fire Sprinkler Protection Systems – a site advocating the use of fire sprinklers in the home.
- Fire Escape Ladders – a manufacturer of fire escape ladders.
- JOMY Products, Inc. – a manufacturer of fire escape ladders
- Consumer Product Safety Commission – lists all unsafe toys and appliances, and provides recall alerts.
- First Alert – a manufacturer of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.
- Kidde – a manufacturer of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.
Leawood has traditionally been a City with a lot of wood-shingled roofs. The City of Leawood ordinances once required them in order to preserve the uniquely beautiful and rustic neighborhoods of Leawood. However, wood shingles have always been a fire hazard. Many homes have burned down over the years because they had a wood shingled roof. Often, the flying embers from these fires threatened neighboring homes. The Leawood roofing ordinance now permits many attractive alternatives to wood shingles which are safer, longer- lived and are proven to help retain the property value of the house and the neighborhood.
The Fire Department supports the right of individual homeowners to have whatever kind of roofing on their homes they choose, which preserves the character and property value of their neighborhood. Your Homes Association may also have requirements. We also hope, once informed of the risks and benefits of various roofing materials, homeowners will choose a product with low combustibility (Class A or B fire rating).
For more information, contact the Building Inspections Department for a copy of the Leawood Roofing Ordinance, including the approved list of roofing materials.
Building Inspections: (913) 663-9165
Fire Marshal Gene Hunter: (913) 266-0607