Firefighters to hand out escape ladders as part of fire prevention week

As two-story homes become more common in the Lowcountry, the Beaufort Fire Department wants to make sure residents think about how they would escape if a fire was on the home's lower floor.

"In Beaufort County and in the city of Beaufort, we had a boom of new, two-story homes and we will again," said Lt. Dan Byrne, fire department spokesman. "We're building up and I don't think many people are thinking about how they'd get out of their house if it was on fire."The fire department plans to give away fire escape ladders and extinguishers away during a string of safety demonstrations this week in a handful of Beaufort neighborhoods.

The ladders, typical made of aluminum or steel, can be stored under a bed and slung over a windowsill to allow someone trapped in a home's upper floors to climb down to safety.

To help, the Lowe's store of Beaufort donated more than 40 rescue escape ladders and 20 fire extinguishers to the fire department as part of its Heroes Program, an initiative that lets stores donate money and supplies to community service projects.

"It feels great to be able to give back to the community like this," said Bob Beine, spokesman for the store. "We relied heavily on the fire department to tell us what they need and once they did, we wanted to do everything we could to help them out."

Byrne said the store's donation is particularly helpful in an economic climate that has residents scrutinizing how they spend, which sometimes mean skimping on items like escape ladders and fire extinguishers.

"Fire follows the economy," Byrne said. "People are so focused on so many other things that they start to cut corners on the little things they can do to protect themselves and their homes."

Today is the start of National Fire Prevention Week, a demarcation sparked by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that killed 250 people and destroyed more than 17,400 buildings in downtown Chicago.

Beaufort firefighters will be demonstrating how to use the ladders at home on Petigru Drive at 4 p.m. today, Byrne said.