That didn’t stop four firefighters and six volunteers with the Vancouver Fire Department from knocking on upwards of 200 doors in the central part of the city. Most knocks didn’t elicit answers, but the three crews who fanned out south of East Fourth Plain Boulevard and east of Grand Boulevard left free safety-goodie bags behind on every doorstep. Anybody who did open their door got treated to a two-minute video in one of four languages about fire safety.
“We hate to wake up any night-shift people,” said Deputy Fire Marshal LeMont Lucas. “We’re being polite.” But when Lucas spies cigarette butts stubbed out in plant pots or just tossed into the yard, he knows Project Home Safe is needed, he said.
The information is quite straightforward: The three main causes of preventable residential fires in Vancouver are unattended cooking, unattended candles and improper disposal of smoking materials.
The key to stopping those kinds of fires before they start is changing people’s behavior, one individual at a time, Lucas said. That’s why Project Home Safe, paid for entirely through a federal grant, has been knocking on doors since 2015.
One man listened to volunteer Mona Ail give the rundown (unattended cooking, unattended candles, carelessness with cigarettes) and realized, “My wife does all three of those things.”
“He was mortified to learn about the wood products in soil that can catch fire,” Ail reported, and grateful for the metal butt bucket that comes with the safety-goodie bag.
“I love seeing the light bulb go on” over people’s heads, said volunteer Angel Souriyamath, who is studying to become a firefighter-parademic at Portland Community College.
Also in each goodie bag is an oven mitt, multi-use plastic cooking tool, a small kitchen towel that’s just the right size to extinguish a small blaze, a battery-powered candle, a coffee mug and a thorough fire-safety information sheet. Most of these items are emblazoned with reminders never to leave your cooking unattended, or to dispose of smoking materials safely.
Landlord and resident Dennis Westly opened his East McLoughlin Boulevard door a crack to talk to Ail. He was glad for the visit, he said, because he’s endured a couple of fires — a small toaster fire in his own house, a big fire that displaced some of his renters a few years ago. On Saturday he had questions about resident parking and fire truck access that Lucas was glad to discuss.
“It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling” to know people are getting the messages about fire safety, Lucas said.