The annual average for house fires around Salem has nearly been reached and it's only January, according to Salem Fire Chief Heath Everett.
"In 2005 we had seven fires total; 2006 we had six total; and in 2007 we had eight total and two were after Dec. 25. We have had three this year, for a total of five since Christmas," Everett said.
According to authorities, there is no link between the higher then average volume of fire incidents.
"I think it's a fluke. If they were all the same or all the same reason then maybe there would be something up, but they have all been different," Everett said.
"The thing about a house fire is they get so intense that the weather is irrelevant. We have fought fire in 100 degrees and in nine degrees. We have fought fires in pouring down rain," he said.
With the unusual frequency of fires in the area, it is important to know how to deal with the possibility of a fire and stress the necessity for a fire extinguisher in the home, according to Everett.
"You would be amazed at how much fire you can put out with one," Everett said. "You don't need to go buy an extinguisher and think, 'I'm a fireman.' You still need to call the fire department."
Everett said the first thing that should always be done is to call 9-1-1 when there is a fire.
"Next, if you have a fire extinguisher try it; if you don't have one get out. Even if you think you have the fire out, that smoke is still generating, you just need to get out of the house," he said. "If it's a big fire, you have to use common sense. If you have a whole wall on fire, get out and don't even try the extinguisher."
"Anytime you don't have to use water it's a good thing. That fire extinguisher just vacuums right up, no water damage," Everett said.
According to Everett, a fire extinguisher is a handy item to have even in the back of a car or truck for an emergency.
"We had a tractor fire here in town as I was leaving work. I went out to it, pulled up and grabbed my fire extinguisher, and that was it. Didn't take but a minute," he said.
According to Everett, most generally the fire department see fires start in the kitchen area and the mechanical area with the furnace and water heater.
"We have the most trouble with attics. Without question, the worst fire is in the attic or one that has gotten to the attic. Once they get in the attic, it's a real pain. The hardest fire to fight is the one you can't see," Everett said.
Fire prevention is paramount in any structure and knowing and applying some simple safety tips can achieve just that, according to Everett.
"The best thing to remember is to use common sense," he said. "Don't plug 15 things into one outlet and don't leave your cook stove unattended. Clean the lint filter and de-lint your clothes dryer. If you have a hot water heater don't use it as a storage shelf.
"I have seen a lot of refrigerators get hot because people don't clean the lint out from under there.
"Check your flue; make sure your furnace is in working order. Those things have a blower motor and people can neglect their belts; belts get hot and start smoking. Make sure your propane furnace, just like your wood furnace, is vented. Make sure there are no bird's nest in the flue," Everett said.
An area often overlooked in a home is the garage, Everett said. "That is a big part of a person's house that they never think about. You should have smoke detectors everywhere. If you pull into a garage and your car is hot and catches fire and your bedroom is 80-feet away, how would you ever know about it without a detector? Gas cans, extra propane for the grill, people store everything under the sun in their garage," he said.
Despite a person's best efforts, fires do happen and when they do it is a race against time for the firefighter from start to finish.
"The best thing we can have on a fire is time, time kills us. When a person thinks there is a fire, call right then. We are all volunteers and we work everywhere. We have to drive to the station and drive the trucks out before we do anything," Everett said.
In spite of the volunteer nature of the Salem Fire Department, Everett and his men hold an average two minute response time.
"My fire chief told me when I took over, the biggest fire in the world is just a bunch of little fires; put one out and go to the next one," Everett said.
Fires are not the only operations the department engages in. The fire department is often times a critical part of rescue operations including car wrecks.
"Something happened one time when a lady was in a car wreck. She said she was fine and wanted out and when we opened the door to help her the air bag went off and knocked her out," he said.
Firefighters are required to take basic firefighting courses with the Arkansas Fire Academy. Courses included training such as, introduction to firefighting, protective equipment and wildland fire suppression. But, according to Everett you can never train for everything.
The Salem Fire Department has slots and equipment for 18 firefighters, all of which are filled. The current roster of firefighters along with Chief Everett are Assistant Chief James Cantrell, Capt. Alan Wagner, Capt. Garold "Butch" Blair, Lt. Gary Hardin, Lt. Nick Blanton, and firemen David Estes, David Keck, George Huepers, Larry Travelstead, Monty McCullough, Raymond Lee Broyles, Sam Rossito, Thomas Hutchins, Tim Hurtt, Todd Doty, Willie McCord and Leon Graves.
"Our guys don't quit. I have two guys that can retire, but are still with the department. If we had an open slot, the trainee would take the basic fire fighting courses and be someone's shadow for several months. But its hard to replace 20 years experience," Everett said.