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Stopping Fires Before They Start

Milton's Fire Prevention Officer on fire safety

October 9-15 is Fire Prevention Week. Columnist Julie Fay spoke with Lieutenant Brian Doherty, Fire Prevention Officer for the , about fire prevention in Milton and saving lives before a fire starts.

How long have you been in this position?
I started as the Fire Prevention Officer about 18 months ago, and have been a firefighter for more than 30 years.

What does the Fire Prevention Officer do?
There are a lot of different things that have been done over the years. A huge part is making sure all the public buildings have up-to-date fire alarm systems with smoke detectors, pull stations and heat detectors. All public buildings in Milton are protected, and those systems are tested at least four times a year.

I also oversee the alarm testing at , which contracts with a private alarm testing company. There’s a first-class alarm system there, and it’s a big responsibility, in that it’s a critical care facility.

We’re also responsible for , making sure their alarm system works properly, along with inspecting and testing kitchen equipment and conducting fire drills. We’re also responsible for all the schools, including and .

Do you bring the “fire house” to the schools?
(The fire house is a trailer with simulated fire and smoke, whichis used to teach elementary school students how to escape from a fire.)

That was arranged by the deputy chief, before the creation of the Fire Prevention Officer position. They got a Fire Safe grant from the state, to get that trailer in town and fund that.

What about other educational programs?
We (Lt. Doherty and the rest of the fire department) share that responsibility. A teacher might request for an educational program to come into a class, and I’ll have the fire company from that district go and give a fire prevention presentation. They’ll show some equipment and explain what to do in a fire. Everyone in the department is knowledgeable and knows what to do, and they do those programs on their own.

I’ve done a fire safety program for seniors a number of times at the . With (financial) help from Milton Residences for the Elderly, we just acquired a film from the National Fire Protection Association that addresses prevention for older adults. We’ve shown it three times, and the film complements the presentation. Milton has a huge senior citizen population, and I’ve been involved with that population a lot since I started. 

What do you find most rewarding about your job?
The traditional role of firefighter is to put out a fire and run in the house and save someone’s life, but people don’t realize that a lot of lives are saved through fire prevention. If the sprinkler system goes on and extinguishes a fire, you hear about the water damage and the inconvenience, but you don’t really hear about the lives that were saved.

Research has shown that prevention programs in schools have saved lives. According to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, there were 32,680 fires reported in 2010. Those fires caused 36 civilian deaths, two fire service deaths, 366 civilian injuries, 531 fire service injuries and $196 million in property damage. Those numbers are lower than they used to be, but the goal of fire prevention is to bring those numbers down to zero.

Any parting advice?
It’s heating season, so have a service contractor check your heating system, and check your chimneys. Be careful with candles and lights as we approach the holiday season, including Halloween. The theme for Fire Prevention Week is “Protect Your Family from Fire,” so check your smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors. Be fire safety aware.

There will be a fire safety presentation for seniors tomorrow, Tuesday, October 11, at 10:00 a.m. at . Call 617-698-3005 for more information.

For more information on fire prevention week, click here.

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