Since the beginning of this year, 36 West Virginians have died in fires. Nine of those deaths happened recently in a single, heartbreaking tragedy in Charleston just two weeks ago.
Parkersburg has not escaped fire tragedy. A fire on St. Marys Street in early February two little girls dead.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the poor, senior citizens, rural residents, smokers and those who live in manufactured homes or in substandard housing are particularly at risk for fires. Unfortunately, a high percentage of West Virginians fit into one or more of those categories.
Couple those demographics with a disturbingly low use of smoke alarms, and our state appears to be at a huge disadvantage.
But we cannot just roll over and assume a state that has its share of poor, older smokers who live in poorly maintained houses must accept a higher number of fire deaths.
Landlords, need to do the right thing and install smoke detectors in all their units - and make sure they have fresh batteries and function properly. Teachers, should regularly send students home with reminders to parents about handling candles, and even their cigarettes, safely. In addition, school administrators may want to have a firefighter visit the school and talk to the children about fire safety and the importance of having a plan - including the need for smoke alarms and having escape routes - at their homes in case a fire does occur.
Relatives and neighbors of older residents, should add a fire-safety sweep to their usual rounds when they check in on friends and loved ones.
Unfortunately, statistics show West Virginians are twice as likely to be killed in fires as the average American.
It does not have to be this way. If we look out for each other, we can stop death by fire from becoming a terrible side effect to being who we are.