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Will a contract with parents keep children safe from fire?

October 11, 2005

How do you get people to use common sense? Mike Weller wishes he knew for sure.

But Weller, the life safety educator for the Hagerstown Fire Department, is going to try something new to get rental tenants to watch what's cooking on the stove and pay attention to what their children are doing.

It's a fire safety contract that comes on the back of an information pamphlet the department gives out to everyone who gets a free smoke alarm.

Under the contract, tenants agree that they will pay for fire damage that results from their neglect or inattentiveness.

According to Weller, so far in 2005 there have been six fires caused by children. The fires usually start in their bedrooms, where children catch bed clothes on fire while playing with matches or lighters.

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We agree with Weller that leaving children unsupervised near lighters or matches is "gross negligence."

The same goes for children left unattended when there are candles burning in a room. Weller said that the number of fires caused by candles has increased by 600 percent in the past 10 years.

That's probably why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has made candles safety the theme of this year's Fire Prevention Week.

NFPA officials said that due to the growing popularity of candles, in 2002 they were blamed for 18,000 structure fires that caused 130 deaths.

Even adults can be misinformed about candle safety, which is why we recommend that they visit www.nfpa.org and learn more.

The site also contains a page for children. There NFPA's trademarked cartoon character Sparky the Fire Dog leads children through a series of fun lessons about firefighters and fire safety.

Though there have been no deaths or serious injuries due to fires this year in Hagerstown, it is always a possibility, particularly if a fire begins in bedding or stuffed furniture.

Parents tempted to leave children alone for "just for a moment" should remember that striking a match only takes a second, while the regret from an unwise decision can last forever.

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