Dear editor,

During the past month and a half, the Merrill community has suffered from some significant house fires that have killed or injured occupants.

Along with the public, our members have mourned these losses.  Our members have also vowed to continue working on the primary mission of our department which is “preventing harm.”

We fully recognize and support the concept of doing everything we can to promote a safe and healthy community. When faced with these recent tragedies, we must optimize our efforts to learn from those events and share related fire investigation information to limit rumors and educate the public.

By state statute fire departments are required to perform an origin and cause investigation on every fire they respond to in their jurisdiction. Fire investigations start as soon as the fire is under control, and most of the time, are completed by the time the fire department leaves the scene.

Other times, an investigation may take weeks.

On any fire, the fire department may request assistance on a fire investigation from the State Fire Marshals’ Office. Fire investigators through physical investigation of the scene and witness interviews do their best to eliminate possible causes of a fire.  Unfortunately, sometimes the exact cause of a fire may never be known and the cause is considered “undetermined.”

Through the fire investigations of the Schulz Spur Drive fire on Dec. 22, the River Street fire on Jan. 27 and the Riverside Avenue fire on Feb. 7, the Merrill Fire Department can assure the public there is nothing suspicious, illegal, or intention about those fires.

At this time, all three of the fires are categorized as accidental with an undetermined cause. Even without exact causes for the fires, we can learn from these recent, tragic fires. There are plenty of crucial fire safety reminders and tips worth sharing. None of tips are indicative of negligence by the occupants in the above mentioned fires.

First, we cannot express the need for working smoke detectors more than what we have for the past several decades. Smoke detectors provide early warning to occupants of a potential fire in a building. In today’s building construction, smoke detectors are hard-wired to electricity with a battery back-up and interconnected throughout the building. This allows occupants to be alerted of the fire even if they are not in the same vicinity of the fire. At a minimum, detectors should be on every level of the home especially inside and outside of sleeping areas. Monthly checks of al detectors are highly encouraged to minimize any malfunctions or dead batteries.

The Merrill Fire Department through a grant from the American Red Cross continues to provide and install smoke detectors to homes in our jurisdiction free of charge. There is no reason why a home in our community doesn’t have a smoke detector present. If you have any questions or concerns about smoke detectors, please call us at our non-emergency number (715) 536-2233 for assistance.

“Close before you doze” is a newer, fire safety phrase, but very relevant to the fires we see today. By closing your bedroom door before you go to bed, you are creating a safety barrier that will allow you to wake up when a smoke alarm sounds.  Without the barrier, smoke and poisonous gases will spread into your room and potentially overcome you before you ever wake up.

About 40 years ago, residents had 17 minutes to escape from a house fire.Today you have just 3 minutes to get out. This is a result of synthetic materials, furniture, and construction which causes fires to spread faster and burn hotter.

If you close before you doze and you hear a fire alarm, remember the basics.  Crawl low to the door. Feel the door with the back of your hand to see if it’s hot.  If it’s not, slowly open the door. Stay low and go. If the door is hot, go out a different way like a window.  If you are on the second floor, open the window and yell for help.  Once you are outside, go to your family’s meeting place and call 9-1-1.  Never go back inside!

Once you’re out, stay out.

All occupants should have 2 ways out of their room. If you don’t have two ways out, don’t use that room as a bedroom. Every family should have a designated meeting place.  Just like kids in school, or parents at their workplace, you should have an escape plan for your house. Practice that plan, so in the unfortunate event that the unthinkable happens at your house, everyone will know what to do.

The Merrill Fire Department is committed to protecting you and your family, but we can’t do it alone. We need you to take fire safety seriously in your home.  Please use these recent tragic events in our community to inspire you to protect your family.  No one every thinks it will happen to them, but it can.

If you have fire safety questions, please call the fire station or contact us on our Facebook page: .  There you will also find many fire safety tips that you can use at your home.

Josh Klug, fire chief, Merrill Fire Department

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