When Keith Miller's Sylvania Township home caught fire last year, the father of three initially thought the alarm from one of his smoke detectors was the alarm clock in daughter Miranda's bedroom - the 7-year-old occasionally played with the clock's settings.
"That was until the second smoke alarm went off" and Mr. Miller and his wife, Lisa, woke up Miranda and her sister Gracie, 4.
All four got out of the house safely before the wee-hours fire spread from the bedroom of son Joseph, 14 - who was staying at his grandparents' house that night - and heavily damaged the structure.
Honoring their diligence in maintaining their smoke detectors and Miranda's swift and appropriate response to the alarm, during which she led her little sister to safety, the Ohio State Fire Marshal's office last week presented the Millers with its Smoke DOG award, which included stuffed toy Dalmatian dog toys for the girls and T-shirts for everyone.
The presentation, which happened to fall precisely on the fire's anniversary, was held at the start of a Sylvania Township trustees' meeting.
"Miranda had learned to crawl under the smoke, something she said she learned from the Sylvania Fire Department," Frank Conway, superintendent of the Ohio Fire Academy, said during the presentation. "Both children knew what to do when the alarm sounded."
"It's such an honor," Mrs. Miller said of the award, then recalled, "As soon as we woke her [Miranda] up, she hit the floor, and her little sister followed her."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the girls' maternal grandfather is Jeff Kowalski, the fire department's acting chief. That link inspires family diligence regarding fire safety.
"They lost their possessions, they lost their pictures," Chief Kowalski said of his daughter and son-in-law. "But because they had a working smoke detector, they didn't lose the most precious things: their children or their lives."
Mr. Conway said a working smoke detector "stands like a guard dog," which is the inspiration for the Smoke DOG award - with the DOG standing for Detector on Guard.
The recognition occurred just weeks before the annual end of Daylight Saving Time in the United States. On the first Sunday of November, official time reverts to Standard Time, which is one hour earlier.
Fire officials urge that on that day and at the start of Daylight Saving Time in early March, people to replace the batteries in their smoke detectors to ensure the devices will work properly in an emergency.
Midautumn also is the start of the busy season for house fires, Chief Kowalski said, because it's when people use fireplaces and space heaters to keep warm, and don't always take care to keep draperies or other combustibles away.
Smoke, meanwhile, kills far more fire victims than actual flames do - especially when upholstered furniture catches fire and releases highly toxic fumes.
The fire at the Millers' home, which caused an estimated $100,000 in damage, was traced to a faulty electrical outlet, the chief said, adding that had Joseph been in his room that night, he probably would have been killed.
In recent years, Chief Kowalski said, Sylvania firefighters have found working smoke detectors at most fire scenes, an important improvement from the past when detectors' batteries often were dead.
"If somebody needs a smoke detector, we'll give it to them," the chief said. "We'll even give them a battery if they need one, it's that important to us that everybody has a working smoke detector."
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