In any language, fire safety means having a smoke detector, checking its batteries regularly and knowing how to properly evacuate a building in the event of a fire.
For the last decade, Enterprise Fire Co. safety officer Jim Anders Jr. has helped the Philadelphia Fire Department share those and other fire prevention messages through his work with the Citizens for Fire Prevention Committee. A former vice chairman of the committee, the group, with Anders' help, compiled fire prevention calendars, pamphlets, fliers for school-aged children, a fire safety app for iPhones and Android devices and more.
At the end of 2003, when the first run of calendars were printed, Anders said 100,000 were printed in English and more were printed in other languages, including Spanish, Russian and Korean. The messages in those materials is making a difference in the lives of Philadelphia residents, Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Chief Derrick Sawyer said.
Over the last 10 years, the city has seen a dramatic drop in the number of fire-related deaths, Sawyer said. At the outset of Anders' calendar compilation, Sawyer said more than 50 deaths occurred each year resulting from fire. Last year, that number dropped to 25, which he said is the lowest in Philadelphia's history.
"He has the same passion for helping to save people’s lives," Sawyer said of Anders.
Because of his dedication to beating the fire prevention drum, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and Deputy Fire Commissioner John Devlin paid a surprise visit to the Enterprise station in Hatboro recently to recognize Anders.
Enterprise Fire Chief Keith Gordon said he was "proud to have members like Jim Anders Jr." While the ever-modest Anders, whose family is in the printing business, admits that his 300 to 400 volunteers hours designing, printing, folding, stapling and punching holes in the calendars was a "real nightmare" at times, he's not one for recognition.
"Awards don't mean anything to me," Anders said. "I'm the type of person who stands in the background. I didn't care about a pat on the back."
Anders, originally of Abington, said he got his first taste of firefighting while watching his father and older brother of 15 years battling blazes.
"I was just a little pipsqueak watching the trucks pull out," Anders said, adding that much of his time was spent playing pool and observing at the firehall. "I learned a lot just sitting there."
Anders said he was a member of Rockledge Volunteer Fire Co. for a while, but was "more of a flag bearer."
It wasn't until his son and current Deputy Chief Jim Anders III, joined Enterprise 20 years ago that he too, decided to join. At the time, the department needed a driver and the elder Anders said, "I figured, 'this is easy.'"
Eighteen months of courses later and Anders, of Horsham, was able to drive the firefighting equipment.
"I wasn't joining to do 5,000 runs," he said. "I just wanted to help out."
Anders said he was asked on multiple occasions to join Horsham Fire Co., but declined.
"You don't live in the area that you run in because what happens if it's your house?" Anders asked. "I'd rather just stay here."
Future fire prevention endeavors
Regardless of which fire department he calls his home base, Anders said he plans to continue his fire prevention efforts with the Philadelphia Fire Department.
Currently in the works are restaurant place mats featuring various fire safety tips. Anders said he's working on versions for children and adults and said that the place mats designs would change each month.
A yearly fire prevention calendar is still designed, he said. However, because of a significant decline in donations, the calendars are no longer printed and are instead available in the cell phone app.
In addition, Anders said efforts continue to have companies donate smoke detectors for distribution among poorer areas in Philadelphia, he said.
Particularly after a devastating fire, or death stemming from a blaze, Anders said fire representatives will "blanket the area," ensuring that neighbors have smoke detectors and that they are operational.
Anders too, said he has handed out some of the fruits of his labor.
"We met some of the people," Anders said. "It was nice to be able to go to a house, hand something in. That was a nice feeling."