I can take almost any news story that the daily newscast brings. Except one. That is the one with nine or so of the most dreaded words in the English language. What’s worst is those words can be prevented at no charge, or for under 10 dollars.

Yet every day, each news broadcast carries a similar story. The story is usually gut-wrenching. And I get very angry when it tells of children who were the innocent victims in all of it. What are those words? Usually it goes something like this: “There were no working smoke detectors in the house” or “No evidence of any working smoke detectors was found.”

Why is it a simple little device that can save your life and the lives of everyone in an entire household is always overlooked? What makes buying and maintaining a smoke detector so difficult? Why do we have to read and hear, time after time, about people losing their lives because of the lack of a working device? Are we such a trifling people that we’d rather die than spend 10 seconds to change the battery in the smoke detector? And worst of all, what is so important that someone would remove the battery from the smoke detector to use it elsewhere?

After every deadly fire, firefighters hit the streets offering free smoke detectors and batteries. Yet we continue to hear of stories where people lose their lives because there wasn’t a working smoke detector in the home. I have never been in a fire. But in speaking with those who have, they all spoke about how fast the fire spread-especially when the fire hits homes like most of us have here in Austin that were built over 80 years ago. The wood is completely dried out and makes perfect fuel for fires.

We tend not to think about it, but fire is a living thing. It breathes oxygen and uses whatever it burns as food. And just like anything that can be killed, a fire will fight back. That’s why we call on firemen to fight the fire. There is a movie from the early ’90s, Backdraft, starring Kurt Russell, that did an excellent job of showing just how smart a fire can be.

I want everyone who reads this column to stop right now and go check your smoke detector. If you’ve been living in your home for over 10 years, then it’s time to buy a new one. Ten years is the average lifespan of a smoke detector. It is also currently recommended that you have a smoke detector not only in the hallway of your home, but in each bedroom. You should also have one in the basement near the furnace and hot water heater. If you live in an apartment, don’t wait for the landlord to buy one. Buy your own as the life it saves will be your own.

Next, have an escape plan already in place in case of a fire. Review that plan with everyone in your household, especially about where to meet after escaping the fire. Many fires start at night. If your house is two stories tall, do you have an escape ladder stored on the second floor? What about in the basement? If the windows are glass block, do you have a sledge hammer stored where you could use it to break out the window? Do you know the fire safety rules? If you don’t have the Internet, dial 311 to find out where to pick up the safety brochures.

And don’t forget to change the batteries in your detector every six months.

Lastly, don’t forget you need to have a carbon monoxide detector as well.

CONTACT: westside2day@yahoo.com