Like any homeowner, business owner or renter, you want a safe, comfortable home for our families and pets. You take steps to ensure that our HVAC systems are properly maintained, the landscaping is watered and trimmed, and the drinking water is clean. But, before you take all of those precautions, you need to take the first important steps of fire prevention. Home fires can be so devastating because our lives are contained in the memories and mementos you have accumulated in our homes.
To take the right precautions, you need to understand a little about how fires behave. Fires start quickly and can spread even faster. In just a few seconds, a small spark can become a major fire. Once the fire starts, you have the added dangers of smoke and heat. Heat is more life threatening than the actual flames. Temperatures in a fire can range from 100 degrees at floor level to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super-hot air will sear your lungs and melt clothes to your skin. Once the smoke accumulates in the home, it’s very difficult to see. In addition the smoke itself is highly toxic and causes disorientation and dizziness. Smoke incapacitates people quickly leading to more deaths than the heat and flames.
Before a fire begins, you and your family need to be able to escape your home in less than 2 minutes. The first step is to create an escape plan, just like the ones you see in hotel rooms. Create a map of your home and draw the fastest escape routes from each room along with a secondary route, in case the first one is blocked. For example, most people have at least one exterior door for a primary exit route. A secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows. Make sure your doors and windows are properly maintained and can be opened easily. Establish a meeting place outside your home to ensure everyone, including pets, are out of the home.
After you explain your map and routes to your family, you need to practice with a series of fire drills. You need to escape in under 2 minutes. And, you also have to plan for difficulties. Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed. Practice opening windows and removing screens. Twice each year, practice your home fire escape plan. Weather conditions may also impede your escape route, like icy roofs or swelling doors that make escape more difficult. These difficulties need to be included in your plan. Also, teach children not to hide from firefighters.
During a fire drill, practice as if there is an actual fire. Practice crawling low under any smoke to your exit. Heavier, hotter smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, or if there is smoke coming around the door, leave the door closed and use your secondary escape route. If you do open a door, open it slowly. Prepare to close it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present. If you can’t get out, cover HVAC vents and cover the cracks around doors with cloth, wet towel or tape to keep smoke out. Say where you are and signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.
Fire Escape Planning for Older Adults and People with Access or Functional Needs:
- Live near an easily accessible exit. The safest space is on the ground floor near an exterior door if you live in an apartment building or multi-story home.
- If you use a walker or wheelchair, verify that you can exit easily and quickly. Make sure any necessary accommodations are installed, like exit ramps and widening doorways
- Speak to your family members, building manager, or neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them.
- Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your special needs and ask them to keep your special needs information on file.
- Keep a phone near your bed and in your pocket and be ready to call 911.
During an actual fire, call 9-1-1 immediately. If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll. Stop immediately, drop to the ground, and cover your face with your hands. Then, roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. You can also smother the flames with a blanket or towel. Use cool water to treat the burn immediately for 3 to 5 minutes. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Get medical help right away. If you can’t get to someone needing assistance, leave the home and call 9-1-1 or the fire department. Tell the emergency operator where the person is located. If pets are trapped inside your home, tell firefighters right away.
Your first line of defense is a properly working smoke alarm. Smoke alarms significantly increases your chances of escaping home fire. You need to insure your home has both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms, or dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors. You need to test the alarms once a month and replace the batteries once a year. Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, in the garage and basement and both inside and outside of sleeping areas. You will also need to replace smoke alarms every 8 to 10 years. Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking, since cooking fires occur with little warning. Smoke alarms are also designed for people with special safety concerns. For the hearing and vision impared, strobe lights, vibrating pads, and intermittent audible alarms can be installed. Smoke alarms with a strobe light outside the home to catch the attention of neighbors and emergency call systems for summoning help are also available.
Additional Fire Safety Tips:
- Make digital copies of valuable documents and records like birth certificates. Photograph any valuable items, such as electronics, jewelry, or computers, for your insurance company and keep any documentation about them in a secure place.
- Sleep with your door closed.
- Get up to date information on the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers. Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher near your stove and fireplace.
- Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.
Home Fire Prevention
Most home fires are preventable! Here are simple steps that you can take to prevent a fire:
- Do not leave your stove unattended. If you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
- Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
- Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet around the stove.
- Position barbecue grills at least 10 feet away from siding and deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
- Smoke outside away from the house. Completely extinguish butts in an ashtray or a can filled with sand.
- Soak cigarette butts and ashes in water before throwing them away. Never toss hot cigarette butts or ashes in the trash can.
- Never smoke in a home where oxygen is used, even if it is turned off. Oxygen can be explosive and makes fire burn hotter and faster.
- Be alert. If you are tired, have been drinking, or have taken medication that makes you drowsy, don’t smoke – especially in bed.
Electrical and Appliance Safety
- Make sure your appliances are properly maintained. Damaged wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged electrical cords immediately.
- Do not run cords under rugs or furniture.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Immediately shut off and professionally replace light switches that are not working, are hot to the touch or lights that flicker.
- Portable generators should NEVER be used indoors and should only be refueled outdoors or in well ventilated areas.
Portable Space Heaters
If you must use portable space heaters, keep flammable materials at least three feet away from the heater.
- Only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) should be used.
- Portable heaters must have a thermostat control and an emergency switch that will automatically turn the heater off if the heater falls over.
- Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene in kerosene heaters. Never overfill it. Only use the heater in a well-ventilated location.
Fireplaces And Wood Stoves
- Inspect and clean woodstove pipes and chimneys at least one a year and check monthly for damage or obstructions.
- Use a heavy fireplace screen to prevent logs from rolling out of the fireplace. It should also completely cover the opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
- Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
- Teach children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
- Store matches and lighters out of reach and sight, preferably in high or locked cabinet.
- Never leave children unattended near hot stoves and ovens or burning candles and fireplaces even for a brief moment.
In the event of a fire, remember that every second counts, so everyone must be prepared. Escape plans help you get out of your home quickly. Fire prevention can make your home safer so fires won’t happen.
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