The Sun News

Do you know what causes most midstate fires? It’s something you likely do every day

Michael Paull
Michael Paull

Do you know what causes the most midstate fires? Perry Fire Department Battalion Chief/Fire Marshal Michael Paull talks about fire prevention.

Q: What’s the No. 1 one cause of fires in Perry and around Middle Georgia?

A: No. 1 would be cooking fires. That’s true nationally and Perry mimics the national numbers.

Q: Why do cooking fires top the list?

A: People walk away from the stove. They leave food unattended on the stove or in the oven, they get distracted or forget it’s there and before long it’s on fire. It spreads, then maybe the cabinets are on fire and it goes downhill from there. There’s a problem with teen cooking, too. They come home from school and stick a snack on the stove or in the microwave and maybe put in on three minutes instead of 30 seconds and you’ve got a fire.

Q: What would be second?

A: Probably the second biggest is heating system malfunctions, fireplaces and space heaters.

Q: The holidays are coming, how about Christmas trees, lights, presents under the tree?

A: Some years yes and some years no. Holiday decoration fires vary year by year but it always pays to be careful with extension cords, keep tress moist, not dry and brittle, and watch out for wrapped presents near heat and electricity. The real thing there is the common problem throughout the year of overloading outlets and extension cords. Don’t do it. Use proper electrical safety and only use extension cords for temporary power, not long term. They’ll fail over time, especially light-duty cords and especially when they’re used for heavy-duty work.

Q: Back to the No. 1 problem: cooking. What’s the answer to that?

A: Try to focus on the task. Stick with it until done then make sure you turn off the heat. For these and other home fires the first line of defense is a working smoke detector. We’re big on that. If smoke rises it will run into a detector and go off.

Q: So you should have one in the kitchen?

A: We don’t really recommend that because you don’t need common smoke from bacon or toast setting it off all the time, but it should be close in the next room or hallway. Significant smoke will reach it quickly and give warning.

Q: Does the PFD offer services related to fire prevention?

A: We have members certified in fire education and as trainers who go to schools and groups to provide literature, videos, talk and have other information about fire safety. We start educating children early not to play with matches, lighters and about fire safety facts. Fire prevention week is in October every year and over the years that and other means have really gotten the message out. There’s always a theme like stressing the fire safety crawl, stop, drop and roll and things like that. We also have a smoke detector program encouraging people to make sure they’re working. As long as our supplies last, we also provide fire detectors if needed. We try to keep a good supply.

Q: What was this year’s safety theme?

A: “Look, Listen and Learn.” It’s look for places a fire could start, listen for the sound of smoke alarms and learn two ways out of every room in case of emergency. It’s about awareness and planning, identifying hazards and eliminating them but knowing what to do if needed. When you hear the smoke alarm, there are only minutes to get out and get to safety.

Q: You should get out and not try to put the fire out yourself?

A: Well, that depends. If you have a working extinguisher and know how to use it, maybe you should try. But there’s a point, and it may be right away, that you should just be safe. Just get out and call 911. Today’s homes burn faster than ever.

Q: Why do you highlight fire safety in October?

A: It’s after the great Chicago fire that killed more than 250,000 people in 1871. It was on Oct. 8.

Q: How long have you been a firefighter?

A: I became a volunteer firefighter while on active duty in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, N.C. I lived off base and drove by a fire department every day. My unit really encouraged community involvement and volunteer work. I went right out of the military into career as a firefighter, which has been 33 years now — 11 of them in Perry.

Q: How can people get more safety and prevention information?

A: Call the department at 478-988-2852. We can schedule a speaker, a station tour or get you material.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at