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Prevent fires by extinguishing cigarettes

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- During the past year, the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services Flight responded to more than 800 emergencies, both on and off base. Most were medical emergencies, but the firefighters also answered calls for fire alarm system activations, odor investigations, service calls and an occasional fire.

Every year the department looks at the previous year's emergencies, particularly fires, for possible trends and ways to avoid these in the future. What investigators have found would be shocking, had it not mirrored the stats of the previous year - 75 percent of fires were smoking related. Most of those were started by improperly disposed cigarette butts in mulch or mixed with combustibles in trash cans or smoking urns.

Does this mean the Air Force -- specifically Peterson AFB -- has a problem? At first glance we thought so, but after researching the facts we found that nationally, smoking is the number one cause of preventable fires in the home.

OK, so it's not just an Air Force problem, it's a societal problem, but do we have to like it? Of course not. The Department of Defense and Air Force have always been at the forefront when it comes to the safety and health of our 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. Here 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, to include 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.

It is well documented that smoking is not only a health hazard but also a leading cause of fire. Did you know smoking related fires are directly responsible for more than 1,000 deaths annually? Even worse, 25 percent of those killed are not the smoker and 34 percent of those killed are nonsmokers. These statistics are not meant to impress, but rather to impress upon you the very real dangers of smoking, both at work and at home. Here are a few safety tips that can be taken at home to ensure this doesn't happen to you.

· Most home fires start inside the home so smoke outdoors.
· Use ashtrays with a wide, stable base that are hard to tip over. If it wobbles, it won't work.
· Completely soak butts and ashes before disposing in trash.
· Ensure you have properly installed and maintained smoke detectors on every floor.
· If you are sleepy, have been drinking, or have taken medicine that makes you drowsy, put your cigarette out first, and never smoke in bed.

Landscaping near high traffic areas frequented by transient personnel such as bus stops, gates, the Exchange and Commissary prove to be the biggest challenge. When visiting these areas, extinguish smoking materials before you leave your vehicle. Smoking is forbidden in front of both the Exchange and Commissary. Remember -- Put it out. All the way out. Every time.

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