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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/19/13

A Voice Crying for Safety in the Georgia Wilderness!

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Preventable fires seem particularly prevalent in the State of Georgia, compared to my previous experience in the North. Recently, it was discovered that some schools in the greater Atlanta area do not even have adequate working smoke detectors, and a local television station got a manufacturer of smoke detectors to donate thousands of the devices to area schools.  Even more recently, a family lost four children in a house fire accidentally set when a fifth child played with a lighter; in that case, it was found that there was only one smoke detector, and that one was missing its battery.

Having managed to survive two accidental major fires in my own lifetime, and being a retired emergency manager in New England, I have tried diligently to focus public attention on a number of easy and reasonable fire prevention and mitigation steps we all should take, via an article titled: "Only you can prevent building fires!" -- a takeoff on the old Smokey the Bear slogan about forest fires.  One would think that getting this article circulated and published in the wake of so many  area building fires and preventable fire tragedies would be easy -- but one would be wrong, unfortunately.  Getting this vital word out in Georgia is a challenge at best, and nearly impossible at worst.

Take, for example, our own local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) of which my wife and I are members.  I offered to make a presentation on ways that CERT members could promote fire safety, based on my own New England emergency and code enforcement officer experience -- but our newly-appointed CERT coordinator told me that she "usually" screens presentations first to insure that they meet her standards, whatever those might be, adding some sarcastic remarks about how many bad presentations she has seen and heard.  Having made presentations for over five decades, including those to an international task force on which I served after the first World Trade Towers bombing in 1993, I decided I did not need her "screening", instead merely emailing "Only you can prevent building fires!" to our local CERT members.  Indeed, safety and security is what CERT should be all about -- and as a volunteer citizen-based structure, CERT should also be all about openness.

Then, there is our once-great regional newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for which I used to write articles on many themes, including emergency management.  It took repeated emails of "Only you can prevent building fires!" -- and finally to the AJC editor after those emails were ignored -- to even get a belated response to this exclusive article.  And that response was that the article did not meet their needs, as their editor put it.  It looks like saving lives and property by innovative ways of preventing or reducing building fires is not among the "needs" of The Atlanta Journal Constitution. (A meaningful Readers Panel to provide readership input does not seem to be among those needs either.)

I did not even bother to submit this article to GEMA, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, as not long before, a staff member of GEMA had responded to a routine inquiry I had made to them by accidentally copying me on an internal email asking if I were the person who had been "harassing us for the past year or so."   True, I had previously asked occasional questions of GEMA and had sent them some safety-and-security plans I had developed in New England, which had been very well-received there.  Having had virtually no other contact with GEMA, I can only conclude that sharing information of a "best practices" nature, as is usually encouraged in emergency management, is considered harassment by Georgia's designated state emergency management agency.  So much for open-mindedness and resource-utilization; there seems to be no learning curve at GEMA.

Finally, I submitted "Only you can prevent building fires!" to Southern Studies , an activist progressive journal which purports to cover a wide variety of topics of interest to concerned citizens in the Southland.  This journal, however, has a very poor track record of responding to submissions, and my article was no exception; sadly but typically, I never even heard back from them.

The good news is that our major regional newspaper in North Georgia did decide to publish the article -- within six hours of my sending it to them!  So it will at least reach part of my area, and will encourage those easy, simple, inexpensive steps to fire safety -- such as having and practicing a viable, functional escape plan from a burning home -- and many other techniques.  As for those who rejected the circulation of those easy, simple, inexpensive -- and lifesaving -- steps, one can only hope that they never, ever experience the consequences of their rejection personally.  Fire safety must be everyone's business, as the price of all forms of safety and security -- like that of liberty -- is indeed eternal vigilance!       

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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)

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