By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Smoke detector maintenance and home evacuation plans are the top priorities for area firefighters during National Fire Prevention Week, which kicks off Sunday.

As part of the national campaign, "Know when to go: React fast to fire," local firefighters are asking families to devise fire evacuation plans and to practice them.

"Early warning is the key to getting out of the house during a fire," Corinth Fire Chief Gerald Horner said.

As families devise their escape routes, they should remember to plan alternate routes to an outside meeting point in case their path is blocked by fire.

"It's important to have two ways to get out," said West Point Deputy Fire Chief John Hazzard.

Firefighters also are urging area residents to change the batteries in their smoke detectors more than once a year.

"We recommend people change the batteries twice a year, when they change their clocks," said Oxford Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Johnson.

Even though the smoke detector batteries will last longer than six months, changing them every six months provides peace of mind, firefighters said.

"That way you know they are fresh," said Tupelo Fire Department Inspector Billy Rainey.

Tupelo firefighters also are lending a helping hand to those not able to install and maintain smoke detectors on their own.

The Tupelo Fire Department, with the 155th Mississippi National Guard unit, is entering the third year of its smoke detector program, Rainey said.

Through the Soldiers and Firemen's Community of Excellence Program, they have placed 653 smoke detectors in 537 residences of senior citizens or low-income families.

"The program has been going well," Rainey said. "We would like to reach more people."

Every six months, the firefighters and National Guard members follow up on the families to see if they need help to replace the batteries.

In addition to ongoing educational activities, some area departments have planned programs during National Fire Prevention Week.

The Tupelo Fire Department will hold a firefighters' memorial service at 3 p.m. Sunday at the central fire station on Jefferson Street. It will be followed by the announcement of the firefighter of the year and a fire prevention program until 5 p.m.

Oxford, West Point and Corinth fire departments will have school children touring their fire stations throughout the week.

Oxford's Johnson said his department is expecting about 100 children each day.

Oxford and Lafayette County departments will announce their firefighters of the year at a Thursday Exchange Club luncheon, Johnson said.

Firefighters also will be out in the community talking to adults about fire safety and prevention measures.

As residents begin to get ready for colder weather, firefighters recommend they take some extra precautions to avoid dangerous decisions:

- Keep combustibles, like drapes, clothes and furniture, away from heaters.

- Clean out floor heaters and vents. Combustible lint might have gotten into the vents during the summer months.

- Have more than one smoke detector installed. If one malfunctions, the other will be able to alert occupants to a fire.

- Make sure fireplace guards and grills are in place.

- Store gas and gas-powered machines, like lawn mowers, separately from natural gas appliances such as water heaters.

- Do not disable smoke detectors set off by cooking or other fumes. Fan the air around smoke detector to stop the alarm.

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