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Oil-based materials pose added hazards if a building catches fire

There is an ongoing change in the situations with which firefights have to contend when battle a building fire. Since the 1970s the number of structure fires in the United States has steadily declined in most communities.

Unfortunately, the rate of people dying in fires has not changed. In 1970 the death rate per 1,000 fires was eight. Today it is 7.5. Why is that? A significant concern is the toxicity levels of today's modern fire environment and the speed with which a fire in a home will burn.

The average house fire today produces more than 50 toxic gases. Carbon monoxide is still the most abundant gas and accounts from a large number of fire deaths. But today we see higher levels are hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. Unfortunately, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide enhance the toxic effects of each other.

What has caused this problem is the shift away from natural materials in construction and in fabrics and materials we use daily. Many of the items in our homes today are synthetic-based and hydrocarbon-based.

In its simplest terms the stuff we bring in our homes is in essence solidified gasoline and fuel oil. These materials burn faster and hotter and produce large quantities of thick black smoke. The black smoke obscures your vision creating a sense of panic, which increases the breathing rate.

The byproducts of the fire process – toxic gases – can be inhaled and absorbed into the body. As the plastic based materials burn they produce the toxins mentioned previously. As a fire grows the temperatures rise dramatically and the oxygen levels decrease. As the oxygen levels decrease the combustion process actually releases greater quantities of toxins and smoke.

How did this become such a serious problem? In the 1970s the average home had a few hundred pounds of plastic materials inside. Think back in time when most clothing was cotton and most construction materials were solid wood. Television sets and stereos were a piece of wood furniture. Telephones were made from metal. No one had computers. Toys were metal.

In today's modern fire environment the average home has 1,500 pounds of plastics inside. This consists of children's toys and furniture, clothing is synthetic, carpets and curtains are synthetic, televisions are plastic and every home has a plastic computer. Shoes are plastic-based. Furniture stuffing is synthetic and plastic based. These plastics heat up in a fire and decompose giving off flammable vapors, which in turn ignite.

If the material does not burn clean due to a lack of oxygen then you get poor combustions and the production of enormous quantities of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. These gases will rise in the heat of a fire, which is why we tell people to crawl in a fire. Stay as low as possible where the air is better. The main point to remember is get out and stay out. Never go back into a burning building.

In the 1970s we would use hose streams that would pump 60 gallons of water per minute and water tanks on the fire trucks held 300 to 500 gallons. This is what was needed to extinguish a fire quickly. The fire would not reach flashover for at least 20 minutes, which gave firefighters time to get to the scene and get in and put out the fire. For fires today firefighters need hose streams that put out 180 gallons of water a minute. The water tanks on trucks now carry 1,000 gallons of water. We need to connect to a fire hydrant quickly or risk depleting the water we bring to the scene.

Fires today are getting to extreme temperatures (1,400 degrees) very fast. This is attributed to the heat output of plastics. Flashover can occur today in as little as five minutes, depending on the room size, contents, and air supply. The smaller the room the quicker it is to flashover. A home with an open design concept (big rooms, wide doorways, and high ceilings) has more air for combustion. Insulation and energy efficient windows hold the heat from a fire and then the fire radiates back onto the furnishings and the faster the flashover.

Recent studies by Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute for Standards and Technology confirmed through hundreds of tests that these opinions by fire service professionals are actually fact. Go on YouTube and enter UL fire studies and you can watch comparisons of fires in modern environment versus older environment.

The lesson from all of this is to have smoke alarms installed in your home – outside of the bedrooms, in each bedroom, and at least one on every level. If the alarm sounds, react, don't delay. If you have a fire call 9-1-1 and get everyone out quickly. Have a meeting place outside your home. If you can't get out, get in a room away from the fire and close the door.

The UL and NIST studies indicate that a closed door will create a safer area of refuge. Once in the room open the window slightly and yell for help. Do not open the window completely as this will allow fresh air into the home and create what we call a flow path for the fire to go to. We are now teaching this to our own firefighters to seek refuge in case they get lost or trapped in a fire.

Most people will never experience a hostile fire in their home. However it does not mean you should not be prepared. Protect your family with smoke detectors.


(This article was submitted by the Laconia Fire Department.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 December 2014 09:02

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Panel looking at hazard issues to meet next on Jan. 14

HEBRON — The Hebron Hazard Mitigation Plan Committee is in the process of updating its 2009 Hazard Mitigation Plan. The committee, which is represented by a variety of local interests, is focused on the natural and manmade hazards that put Hebron at risk as well as the development and prioritization of recommendations to protect the safety and well being of town residents.

The committee will have its next meeting on January 14, at the Public Safety Building 37 Groton Road, Hebron starting at 1 p.m.  Residents of Hebron and representatives from neighboring communities are encouraged to attend and provide input.

Hazard Mitigation Planning is as important to reducing disaster losses as are appropriate regulations and land use ordinances. The most significant areas of concern for Hebron will be determined as a result of this process. Areas of concern in the 2009 Plan included flooding, severe winter weather, and wildfire. With the update to the Hazard Mitigation Plan, community leaders will be able to prioritize actions to reduce the impacts of these and other hazards. Community leaders want the town to be a disaster resistant community and believe that updating the Hazard Mitigation Plan will bring Hebron one step closer to that goal.

A copy of the 2009 Hazard Mitigation Plan can be viewed at the town's Hazard Mitigation website http://www.hebronnh.org/hazard-mitigation-committee.html. For more information call Chief John Fischer, Hebron Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director at 744-5584 or David Jeffers, Regional Planner, Lakes Region Planning Commission at 279-5341.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 December 2014 08:50

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Historical Society to sponsor 3-part genealogy series


LACONIA — The Laconia Historical and Museum Society and Laconia Public Library will sponsor a three part seminar series as a follow up to seminars held earlier this year. The series will provide the basics of navigating through the online genealogy site familysearch.org. This series is to be led by Richard and Cindi Cote, experienced genealogists and will begin on Monday, January 5 at 10am – 12pm at The Laconia Public Library. Continuing sessions will occur in February and March.

This series is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is preferred. For more information about this event, or to pre-register, call The Laconia Public Library at 603-524-4775 or Laconia Historical and Museum Society at 603.527.1278 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Friday, 26 December 2014 08:40

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Performer to bring his one-man Sammy Davis Jr. musical program to Interlakes theater in Feb.

MEREDITH — The Interlakes Summer Theatre is proud to announce that Solomon Kee will be returning to Meredith with the latest version of his Sammy Davis, Jr. show on Saturday, February 7th at 2 pm and 7:30 pm and
Sunday February 8th at 3 pm.

"Mr. Davis, A Night with Sammy" is the new Sammy Davis Jr., musical show. Audiences will be transported to the Las Vegas Strip and you're sure to believe you're sitting at the Sands Hotel singing, swinging, and crooning with Sammy. The show highlights classic hits like "Candyman", "Mr. Bojangles", "Once in a Lifetime", and "What Kind of
Fool Am I?".

"Kee is astonishingly like Sammy Davis, Jr. in both song styling and body language", says Interlakes Theatre producer, Nancy Barry. "The show isn't about imitation. I'm just being Solomon on stage", says Kee, who plays Sammy. "I sing his songs and add a few Sammy Davisisms here and there. I don't believe anyone can impersonate him. He was one of a kind. I just wanna make the world taste good like he did."

Solomon performed his one­ man show here in October 2013 and since has continued the development with help from NYC producers and directors. He returns with his Musical Director, Joshua Stecher­ Ross and Interlakes favorites David LeBlanc ("Dave, the drummer") and bassist Dr. Anthony Varga. "Everywhere I go in town, folks have asked me to bring him back, so on my recent trip to NYC, Solomon and I sat down together and made a plan", says Barry. All tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 603-­707-­6035, by visiting our website www.interlakestheatre.com, or can be purchased at the door. Seating is reserved.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 December 2014 08:29

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