Every Minute Counts: Reflective signs on houses save time, could save lives in emergencies

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) The Fairbanks North Star Borough provides reflective home address signs for residents to make it easier for first responders to find their home in an emergency.

Firefighters put reflective signs together at the North Star Volunteer Fire Department. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

Bill Witte, GIS specialist with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, told us “You would be surprised how few house number signs there are around the borough. We can have a perfect response, dispatch doing its thing, 911 is doing its thing, we have it all mapped... but if the responders can’t find an address, you can imagine how difficult it is to go past an address with a large fire engine and have to turn around. It just slows down the response”

Witte wants residents to know that the 911 surcharge on telephone bills pays for the materials for the reflective signs. “It doesn’t come from the fire service area taxes or anything like that. It’s part of 911. If the 911 system does not deliver a responder to your location, it is not doing its job. So in a sense you’ve already paid for these signs. So you might as well pick one up,” said Witte.

Kim Streeter, GIS technician for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, says the signs are free and available at a local fire station or at the Department of Community Planning at the borough administrative building downtown at 907 Terminal Street.

“When we get a request from you, we’ll check your address to verify to make sure we give you the sign for the right address. Then we’ll make up the sign and it comes all ready to hang up. You just have to go and put it up on a post or a tree by your house where they can see it from the road,” said Streeter.

Not only does it help to have a sign with your home address on it, but the reflective material makes it easier to spot during dark winter days.
“We bought special material so that it’s reflective at night, and that it can be seen at any time during the day. A lot of people sometimes will have just the numbers tacked up on their house, which is good; but especially because we get so much darkness here you can’t see those at night. So the benefit of the signs is also that they’re visible at night,” said Streeter.

Fire Chief Steve Crouch with North Star Volunteer Fire Department says being able to find a house during an emergency is very important.
“When we go out on these roads, on these calls, it is super dark. A lot of times we have the ice fog and without these reflective signs at the end of the driveway it can be very frustrating trying to locate some of our residences out in the outskirts of our area,” said Crouch.

Crouch went on to emphasize that in emergencies, every second counts. “Time matters. In a medical emergency, we have the 'golden hour' -- so the faster we can get to somebody and start giving them lifesaving interventions the better it is for the patient, the better outcomes they have. In a house fire, time is critical. The first five to ten minutes of a house fire determines, most of the time, whether we save it or whether we lose it. So time is very important to us,” said Crouch.

Proper signage helps first responders even though technology is improving “Our dispatchers can actually pull up what we call a freedom map, and they can see the mapping on the freedom map of where we are. Even that’s not 100% because it has to be updated, but they’ll try to give us turn by turn directions if we’re having difficulty locating an address,” said Crouch.

The North Star Volunteer Fire Department provides free home safety inspections and will bring along a reflective home address sign. “We are more than happy to come out and check people’s homes for fire safety, and at the same time we’ll install the signs for them so they’re in a location that we can see,” said Crouch.

The best location for a reflective sign is usually at the end of your driveway, Crouch says. “If you have a super long driveway, ask for more than one sign. We do not mind giving out a couple signs to help us get to your house. But [put it] at the end of the driveway where our headlights will shine on it when we approach,” said Crouch.

To verify your address: https://bit.ly/2r24uhe

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