COVINGTON - Looking for a street number in the dark can be nerve-wracking, but if you're answering an emergency call when seconds can mean the difference between life and death, it can take on an entirely different sense of urgency.
Area firefighters know this feeling all too well, and they're urging residents to make sure they have highly visible numbering on their homes.
"We want your address as visible as we can make it where we're not driving up and down the street hunting your business or residence," said Capt. Tony Smith of the Covington Fire Department. "A lot of our calls are EMS-related or other things like a gas leak, so there's not going to be indicators to help us locate your house."
Lt. Cydnie Taylor, fire safety educator with the Newton County Fire Service, said even though a call is placed to 911 dispatch which will show the address where the land line call is originating, many times people are now using cell phones.
"The address won't show with a cell phone, and we go out many times relying on the victim to describe the house or tell us what vehicles are in the driveway," she said. "Sometimes the person can't give us that information, or the caller could be a child who can't tell us how to find the house."
Taylor said she could think of an area right now where a new subdivision has gone in on what was formerly farmland. The streets have been named, but the house that was originally on the farm and is located way back on the property, still has a highway address.
"You could ride forever back in there and if you didn't know the woman's house was located behind the subdivision, you'd never find it," she said.
Other problems arise when numbering is not consecutive, vacant lots mean skipped numbers and some streets even have the same numbers on the north and south ends.
"If your mailbox is at the end of your driveway and it's numbered, that's easy," Taylor said. "But if your mailbox is across the street and there are four other mailboxes over there, then that's different."
She recommends residents post reflective signs at the end of their driveway, and if they share a driveway, at every point where a turn is needed to get to the residence.
"Just do everything you can to help yourself," she said. "The numbers are available at any hardware or discount store. You can get them easily and cheaply."
Smith said at many of the older homes in the city, firefighters are finding that the house numbers affixed to the houses have been painted over and are the same color as the house.
"Try finding that in the dark," he said.
He pointed out that International Fire Code calls for all homes and businesses to have their numerical street address visibly posted, and that requirement is written in most building codes, as well.
The Covington Fire Department will help residents acquire the appropriate reflective signage at a minimum fee and the proceeds go to a good cause with their Blue House Sign Program.
"They're for anybody who would like one. All they need to do is call us. If they live inside the city, we'll come and install it. If they live outside the city, they'll have to come to the station to pick it up," Smith said.
The signs are $15 and many have been made for residents in Rockdale and Henry counties, as well as Newton County, Smith said.
"The proceeds go to our scholarship program for graduating seniors every year," Smith said. "It benefits us on two ends - from the professional level and we're giving back to the community with the educational scholarships for graduating seniors. We'll make them for houses, businesses, whatever."
Smith said firefighters post the signs on stakes in the public right of way in front of a home; if the homeowner wishes to attach the sign to their house, they must do that themselves.
"In our profession, where every second counts, anything we can do to speed the process up is a great service to the citizens," Smith said. "Our main goal is a quicker response time and to get to our citizens a lot faster and more efficiently."
To find out more about the Blue House Sign Program, call 770-385-2100.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.