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Firefighters push prevention

Albany Fire Department Chief James Carswell, left, and Assistant Chief Sebon Burns work hard to maintain the department’s history of outstanding fire prevention and safety.

Albany Fire Department Chief James Carswell, left, and Assistant Chief Sebon Burns work hard to maintain the department’s history of outstanding fire prevention and safety.

ALBANY, Ga. — What’s the first thing you think about when you’ve checked into an out-of-town hotel? A hot shower? TV show? Liquid refreshment? Fire Chief James Carswell, of the Albany Fire Department, recommends considering the layout of the facility — and the location of the nearest stairwell or exit.

That knowledge can be life-saving.

“During a fire the building could fill with smoke,” Carswell said. “You can’t read signs or room numbers. Your only chance is to know which way to go and be able to count room doors by touch.”

Carswell and Assistant Chief Sebon Burns lead the department in its mission to bring the prevention and survival message to children and the general public. While they continue with the old delivery methods, like holding a major safety program at the Civic Center each October and giving talks and demonstrations at area schools, they’re not above testing waters of social media. Recently, volunteers dressed as clowns, superheroes and other characters and danced their version of the “Harlem Shake” in one of the station houses. Posted in the scene were potential life-saving messages, such as “test your smoke alarm monthly,” “stop, drop and roll” and “always have two ways out.” In a matter of days, the resulting You Tube video has received nearly 10,000 hits, the firefighters say.

“It’s a lot of good fun,” Burns said, “and we could never reach that many people at the Civic Center.”

“We did the whole thing on just an iPad,” Carswell said. “All the parts were played by off-duty firefighters and volunteers. One Public Works employee took part of his vacation to be in it. There was no cost for the costumes or to download the video.”

Another high-tech means of educating the public to fire safety, is the AFD website, which is contained within the City of Albany site, www.albany.ga.us/. According to Carswell, a variety of information is available there, much of it geared directly toward preventing or surviving a structure fire.

According to Carswell, there are some pretty big shoes to fill in fire prevention — historically speaking — and current department leadership doesn’t want to be the ones who drop the ball. The bar was set in the early 1920s by man named Dennis W. Brosnan, Albany Fire Department chief from 1911 through 1951 and a legend among firefighters. Brosnan was a leader, say Carswell and Burns, not just for Albany firefighters, but for the nation, and there’s a string of mounted bronze plaques in testament to that.

The AFD, which services both the city and Dougherty County, enjoys an ISO class 2 rating for its overall firefighting efficiency, capability and history. According to Carswell, that places the fire team in the top 1 percent of national fire service providers. The quality of service with that ranking not only saves lives and property, but it also yields some of the lowest fire insurance rates in the nation.