Important steps to avoid a house fire and stay safe


Lt. Annmarie Pickett

By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Worcester – According to the National Fire Protection Association, people age 65 and over are twice as likely to be killed or injured by fires compared to the population at large.

Lieutenant Annmarie Pickett, a representative of the Worcester Fire Department (WFD), recommends several steps for fire safety: install and maintain working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms within 10 feet of every bedroom door; be familiar with two exits from the home; and practice home fire escape plans.

“Everyone’s living environment has unique hazards,” Pickett said.

Pickett stated that every four minutes someone dies from fire in the United States. During 2015, there were five fatalities from three fires in Worcester. According to Pickett, all five were older adults, living in homes with non-working smoke alarms.

Pickett, 51, a lifelong resident of Worcester, is a third-generation firefighter who wears her father’s badge. Working as a paramedic since 1985, she joined the Worcester Fire Department in 2000 as a firefighter.

Out of approximately 400 firefighters in Worcester, Pickett said that there are six women, with potentially more in training.

As the WFD public education officer, she has led the department’s Education and Outreach Division since it was formally established in 2009. Through recordkeeping and evaluation tools, Pickett said that there is now better allocation of resources. She added that every firefighter in Worcester participates in fire safety education.

Pickett is non-stop in her quest to educate the public, from preschoolers to older adults. Her department has led over 1,000 school workshops. In 2015, she said that they conducted approximately 150 fire safety home visits.

Pickett will also do whatever it takes to gain funding for smoke alarms. She applies for grants, and has received donations from Kidde, a smoke-alarm manufacturer. She also collaborates with the American Red Cross, St. Paul’s Outreach, and Family Services of Central Massachusetts.

Acknowledging her dedication, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) named Pickett the 2015 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year.

Pickett said she believes that “Fire is everyone’s fight”- the motto of Vision 20/20, a National Strategy for Fire Loss Prevention.

“I can’t prevent a fire in your home; you can,” she said.

Here are some more safety tips from Pickett:

  1. Escape a fire within three to four minutes. Today’s synthetic fibers are highly flammable so you don’t have much time.
  1. If you live in a home built before 1940, assume that a small fire has spread through gaps in your walls. Get out quickly.
  1. If you are deaf or do not wear your hearing aid during the night, your smoke alarm must include a strobe light and a bed shaker.
  1. Check the battery in your smoke alarm using a broom handle to hit the test button. Change the battery once a year, and replace the alarm every 10 years.
  1. When cooking, never leave a pan unattended. Always roll up your sleeves and tie your apron in the back, not the front where the strings can catch fire. Keep your stove clean.
  1. Smoking is the primary cause of fatalities from fire – extinguish your butts.
  1. Safe operation of a space heater requires 3 feet of open space all around. Turn the unit off when you sleep, and never leave it unattended.
  1. If you light a candle, pay attention to it, and leave a foot clear around it.
  1. Don’t leave fuel sources near your furnace, such as empty cardboard boxes and flammables.
  1. Shovel snow from around your fire hydrants and outside vents. If you can’t do this, ask a family member, friend or neighbor.
  1. Make sure that your house number can be seen from the street so firefighters can find your house.

For more information, contact Pickett at 508-799-1754. For non-Worcester residents, she can help find a firefighter in other towns to help with fire safety measures. For more information on fire prevention, visit