As a part of this year’s Fire Prevention Week, the Herald sat down with the Merritt Fire Rescue Department (MFRD) to chat about safety, fire prevention, and escape planning. Gareth Tilt, firefighter and public education coordinator for the MFRD, is inviting the public to engage in a number of ways with this year’s theme: “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.” 

Q: What is the theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week? 

A: “The big theme of Fire Prevention Week starting on the 9th is ‘Fire won’t wait, plan your escape.’ The focus is on homes establishing a home fire escape plan. What that actually means is basically to go into each room of your house, sketch a rough diagram of your home, and see if you can find two ways out of every room. Bedrooms, typically it’s one door and a window. You want to make sure those two ways out are functional. Make sure the window does open, and that you then have a route to get safely somewhere else. Then, you’re going to test your smoke alarms, and find a meeting place.”

Q: How can Merrittonians find an appropriate meeting place for their escape plan?

A: “The idea is that anybody who’s leaving the home, they all know where to go in case of an emergency. When you’re selecting a meeting place, there’s a few criteria you’ll want to make sure you meet. It needs to be a meeting place that’s not going to move. For example, saying you’re going to meet at the car. Sometimes could be a very reasonable sounding option because it’s usually in the driveway, but what if that one day it’s not? A mailbox, a tree, something that’s stationary and you can find in the dark.”

Q: How often should a fire escape plan be practiced? 

A: “We want you to practice it a couple of times per year, kind of the same idea with changing the batteries in your smoke detectors every six months. Like a fire drill for school, you’re going to run through and actually test it, and then post it somewhere in your home. Something that says in case of emergency, this is where we go, and this is what we do. If you follow the other guidelines with smoke detectors in the right places and closing your doors, your risk of harm is substantially reduced.”

Q: Why is it important that Merrittonians have a fire escape plan in place?

A: “It absolutely helps us if we show up and everybody from the home is already accounted for. It lets us know what our priorities are, if we’re focused on protecting the property or if we’re still looking for other members of the household. At the end of the day, our main role here is to try and work with the community to keep lives and property safe. If people are doing a lot of that work for us, it sure helps. We know that homes burn faster these days than they used to, so the advanced notice is a really big thing.” 

Q: What is the MFRD doing to mark this year’s Fire Prevention Week?

A: “We’ve designed an escape room through rooms of the fire hall, where you start back in our gear room and work your way through and out to the bays. Along the way, we do sneak in some tips and information, and have our puzzles and riddles surrounding elements of fire prevention and safety. You’ll find that some of the puzzles are still pretty challenging and unique, and I think we got a pretty good feel for actually having an escape room experience here. It’s free to the public, and the sweet spot is a team of around four people, but we can take more if a bigger group wants to come in. We can make it a little more on the challenging side, or we can make it more kid-focused as well.”

For more information on fire escape planning, or to sign up for a timeslot in the Fire Hall’s escape room, visit www.merritt.ca/firerescue.