Editorial: Pushing our luck


There are tragedies we are all too familiar with when we read the news or see it on TV. And also all too familiar are our reactions — shock, sorrow and the certainty that it will never happen to us and the people we love.

But sobering statistics should wake us up that death and injury from house fires doesn’t only happen to strangers, but could be waiting for us. According to the Red Cross, seven people die every day in a house on fire in America, with most of the victims being the youngest and oldest among us.

Every day, 36 of those who make it out alive will suffer serious injuries, the Red Cross has reported, and more than $7 billion in property damage goes up in smoke every year.

It’s remarkable, looking through the Reporter archives, how many houses catch fire on Shelter Island. And even more remarkable is the lack of fatalities and serious injuries that have occurred. This is mostly due to the professionalism and rapid response of our volunteer firefighters. But pushing our luck is a dangerous game.

To keep ourselves safe, it’s important to wake up and put in place life-saving strategies when fire hits home. Supervisor Gary Gerth has done just that, proclaiming Fire Prevention Week on Shelter Island for October 7-15.

The supervisor presented the proclamation to Shelter Island Fire Department Chief Anthony Reiter at the regular September 28 meeting of the Town Board (see story, page 4). It asks Islanders to “Look, Listen and Learn.”

We are urged to look around our surroundings and identify where fires could start; listen for smoke alarms in our residences and get out immediately; and learn strategies, including a home escape plan for all family members to respond quickly when an emergency occurs and to practice the plan at least twice a year.

Smoke detectors work, if they are kept up to date and batteries changed. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association has crunched numbers to find that in 1975 less than 10 percent of American residences had smoke detectors. By 2000, the number had risen to 95 percent, and during that time deaths from fire were cut in half.