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Fires: 2014 in review

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Annually, the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services Flight responds to more than 800 emergencies on and off Peterson AFB. Statistically, most are medical emergencies with very few actual fires, largely due to an aggressive prevention program and the "safety first" culture we live in. Fire prevention efforts were so successful last year that 2014 played host to only two reportable fires on base all year. That's the good news, but we can be better...and we need your help. For the third year running, improperly disposed smoking materials were the leading cause of reportable incidents; smoking materials were the sole cause of fires on our installation last year.

Proper disposal of smoking materials is simple when smokers exercise both common sense and good judgment. Both fires last year were caused when cigarette butts were discarded into mulch beds near buildings. In both cases they were discovered, reported, and extinguished early before the fire reached the buildings and damage was limited. However, had these fires happened after duty hours (delaying the reporting), the outcome could have been much worse.

In addition to the obvious fire hazard smoking presents, we would be remiss if we didn't mention the health issues associated with smoking. The Department of Defense and Air Force have always been at the forefront when it comes to the health and safety of their personnel and have published smoking related guidance in AFI 91-203, Air Force Consolidated Occupational Safety Instruction, and AFI 40-102, Tobacco Use in the Air Force. Below are a few excerpts from those documents:

· Designated Tobacco Areas will be kept in good condition.
· Tobacco use on the installation shall be restricted to DTAs. Tobacco use outside of DTAs, including while walking anytime outside of DTAs, is prohibited.
· DTAs shall be away from common points of facility entry/egress and not in front of buildings or air intake ducts. The distance of a DTA from building entry/egress is to be determined by the squadron commander but will be no less than 50 feet.
· DTAs shall be a minimum of 50 feet from pedestrian walkways, including parking lots, to prevent secondhand smoke exposure to passersby.
· Tobacco users are responsible for keeping DTAs clean and free of cigarette butts and debris. Commanders may remove DTAs if the area around it or leading up to it is cluttered with trash, cigarette butts or spittoons.
· Provide an adequate number of ash receptacles and trash cans for every authorized smoking area.
· Dispose of smoking material in approved containers (listed by UL, CSA or other recognized testing laboratory) specifically designed for smoking material. Stencil these containers or cans ―SMOKING MATERIAL ONLY.
· Disposal of waste, trash or any combustible material in ashtrays or smoking material cans is prohibited.
· Saturate and completely extinguish smoking material prior to disposal into outside waste dumpsters.

As a substitute to traditional smoking, many have started using e-cigs or vapor devices. While we haven't had any fires on base caused by e-cigs, they have contributed to multiple fires and explosions nationally. These devices use a battery to send a small electrical current to an atomizer, which in turn vaporizes a nicotine solution inhaled by the user. In order to vaporize the liquid, the atomizer must convert the electrical current into heat that can pose a fire risk if not handled with care. As a reminder, e-cigs and vaporizers are also forbidden indoors not only because they're a fire hazard, but also because the fluid used in the devices contains toxins and other harmful chemicals.

High traffic areas frequented by transient personnel such as bus stops, gates, the Exchange, and the Commissary continue to be the biggest challenge for our team. When visiting these areas or any designated smoking area, always fully extinguish your smoking materials and place any remnants in a proper container. Finally, the Peterson AFB Fire Department is always here to support the entire installation...when in doubt, dial 911, and we'll be on the way.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui