ANCHORAGE, Alaska—According to FEMA, the fire-death rate in Alaska is nearly 50% higher than it is in the Lower-48.
Government statistics show that here -- in the "Last Frontier", 17 out of a million people die each year in fires. Nationwide, only 12 -- out of each million people -- die in fires.
FEMA doesn't say exactly why Alaska's fire-death rate is so much higher. But it does say factors such as rural poverty contribute to it.
The agency says there's another factor that leads to unnecessary death by fire: lack of preparation.
Firefighters know just how important that is. When they go into a burning building, they fully understand that they cannot listen to their primitive instincts. That leads to panic. They must -- instead -- rely on their training.
Naturally, the public can't go through the rigorous training that firefighters go through. But it turns out, they don't have to. For most of us, just thinking a little bit about fire safety can help keep us much safer.
That's why, each year, the Anchorage Fire Department holds its annual Open House -- at their training grounds in East Anchorage.
Today, (saturday) 2700 people attended the open house. Not only did they get treated to dramatic demonstrations -- such as an upper-floor rescue and a controlled burn -- they also got safety lessons.
Children are especially eager to absorb the lessons imparted by firefighters.
Today youngsters -- of all ages -- got to hold a fire hose and knock over cones with its powerful stream. They also got to practice tossing rescue ropes to a manikin.
And, in all the excitement, they got safety lessons mixed in.
What happens if you wake up -- in the middle of the night -- to a fire? \
Answer crawl out of bed and stay low.
Because low is where the freshest air is.
What do you do before opening a closed-door in a house that's on fire?
Feel the door with the back of your hand to see if it's hot.
Youngsters like 7-year-old Bobby Page of Anchorage picked up those lessons enthusiastically from firefigthers -- men and women whom they idolize.
There was also a lesson for Bobby's parents. They were told to make sure they check the batteries in their smoke alarm twice a year -- once in the fall, and once in spring. It helps to do it whenever we have to change our clocks. Having working smoke alarms is probably the single most effective thing any of us can do to prevent deaths from fire.
In the end, a lot of people walked out of the open house wiser about safety than when they came in.
And that, says the Anchorage Fire Department, is the point.