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'One day the odds will not be with us'

A burnt pizza can be fatal, if left unattended long enough. FOTO: Longyearbyen brannvesen

'One day the odds will not be with us'

Fire Chief Jan Olav Sæter advises against relying only on the automatic alarm notification system when people are sleeping.

The fire chief has experienced it numerous times. He is called out to a nighttime alarm, often during a weekend, and people in the houses surrounding the scene are starting to cluster together.

"People are initially afraid," Sæter said. "Then fear turns into anger. That is understandable."


In the meantime
The anger occurs most often when it is revealed carelessness or an oversight resulted in a mishap that almost ignited a full-scale blaze. Such was the case last weekend. The person had been out on the town and decided to a cook a pizza when he got home. Then he fell asleep.

"It is almost always single men in their 20s, 30s, or 40s," said Sæter, who has seen plenty of kitchenette fires in Longyearbyen. During 2013 and 2014, there were 14 fire callouts caused by oversights involving stoves and ovens.


Alarm system can fail

The direct notification alarm system in Longyearbyen works very well. An oversight in a kitchen should not, in theory, evolve into a full-scale fire.

"We come quickly to the scene," Sæter said. "But direct notification of the fire department must on no account be an excuse for inaction. It's a good system, but it is also a technical device that can fail. One day the odds will not be with us."

Dry boiling is one of the most common causes of fatal fires in Norway. According to the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection, dry boiling caused all 127 major residential fires in the country in 2013 and 8.6 percent of fatal fires.

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