The airwaves these days may be filled with news of COVID-19 vaccinations, politics and the economy, which means more mundane topics such as fire safety can get pushed out of the spotlight. But Henderson City Fire Chief Steve Cordell urges everyone to continue to be mindful of potential fire hazards, especially during the cold winter months.
Be careful with any supplemental heat source, Cordell said in an interview on Wednesday. Make sure that they are UL-approved, and make sure that those space heaters or kerosene heaters have at least a 36-inch clearance on all sides. And please do not use your stove or oven to heat your home, he stressed. “There are programs…to assist you,” Cordell said. “I encourage folks to reach out if you need assistance with heating.”
If your smoke detector is making that annoying chirp that indicates it needs a new battery, he said, there is help for that, too. “We tell people to give their battery a birthday,” Cordell said. Change the battery every six months, such as when the time changes in November and in April. “If you have a battery that is bad, that’s what we’re here for,” he noted. At this time, because of COVID-19 restrictions, city residents must schedule an appointment for city fire personnel to come to their home to change that battery or perform a home safety inspection.
Cordell said city residents should call Capt. Lee Edmonds, fire prevention coordinator, at 252.432.5108 or 252.438.7315 to make an appointment.
The pandemic has “really affected our message on the public safety side of our department and education…(and) definitely hindered what we do normally, on a day-to-day basis,” Cordell said, adding that their work with school children is what they may miss most, from reading with kindergartners and being mentors, to playing Dodge Ball or Duck, Duck, Goose with the younger students, he said. “Just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, we miss it,” Cordell said. Even the annual fire prevention campaign in the schools looked different in 2020. Instead of going into schools to talk about fire safety, the fire department had to deliver packets of information instead. Cordell said teachers got instructions on how to go over the materials provided.
Fire safety and prevention are priorities for Cordell and his staff, which has grown by 6 in the last year. The city budget allowed for 6 additional staff for the city fire department, which Cordell said came about after completion in 2020 of a study to assess needs. Those six additional hires allowed, for the first time ever, his department to fully staff two engines and a ladder company.
He is currently compiling budget information to present to the city manager and the city council that he hopes will result in progress toward the addition of a third fire station situated on the west side of the city. A third station “will give us better response time. We are providing great coverage throughout the city,” he said, but noted that there is “major growth” on the west side of Henderson. “When things start developing, you have to prepare for that in all aspects,” Cordell added, from sanitation to street maintenance to water and sewer and public safety, including, of course, fire departments.
The city fire department is staffed at sufficient levels during the pandemic, and Cordell said he has had his first dose of the vaccine. “We’re doing our very best to stay safe on calls and in the station,” he said. He encourages everyone in the community to be vaccinated, his fellow firefighters included. “Our job as first responders is to take care of the public,” he said.