Home fires are dangerous, scary and, unfortunately, happen too frequently.
U.S. fire departments respond to a house fire every 24 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). On average, seven people die in U.S. home fires every day.
When it comes to safety and security, the average person tends to forget how important fire prevention is. Sometimes people overlook the dangers posed by a fire or underestimate the speed and power of fire and smoke.
“The three leading causes of fires are men, women and children,” says Fire Marshall David Longenecker with the Lancaster City Bureau of Fire. “Fires in residential settings can usually be traced back to the behavior of human beings”.
Cooking fires, for example, are the leading cause of home fires and injuries, according to the NFPA.
“But unattended cooking is the leading cause of fires in the kitchen. If people would pay close attention to what they are doing in the kitchen, the fires would either not start or would at least not progress to the point where the fire department would have to intervene,” Longenecker says.
Keep a lid nearby if you need to fight a small grease fire. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turning off the stovetop. For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
- Don’t use the stove or stovetop if you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol.
- Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food.
- If you have a cooking fire, get out and close the door behind you when you leave to help contain the fire. Make sure others get out and call 911 or the local emergency number.
Heating is the second highest cause of fire, followed by electrical systems/lighting equipment and intentional fires.
“The key to preventing heating fires is keeping everything at least three feet away from heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, radiators, furnaces and water heaters. People don’t take into account that the heat will build up over time to the point where things become combustible material,” Longenecker says.
- Consider replacing old space heaters with new ones that turn off automatically when they overheat or tip.
- Have furnaces and chimneys professionally cleaned and inspected every year.
- All fireplaces should have a sturdy screen. Never use flammable liquids to start a fire in a fireplace. Allow ashes to cool completely and use a metal bucket for disposal.
Extension cords are helpful in delivering power right where you need it. However, regardless of the gauge or rating of the cord, they are only a temporary solution.
“Cords have multiple outlets but that doesn’t mean you should plug that many appliances into it at the same time. They should only be used for smaller items like cell phones because the cords can become overloaded and could spark,” says Nick Good of Garden Spot Fire Rescue.
“Multiple cords should not be chained together because that’s a major hazard. And you certainly don’t want to bury them under a rug or a mat. The point there the cords connect could generate heat. The heat cannot escape if the cords are covered and could end up being a fire hazard,” Good says.
Make sure the extension cord or temporary power strip you use is rated for the products to be plugged in, and is marked for either indoor or outdoor use. The appliance or tool that you are using the cord with will have a wattage rating on it. Match this up with your extension cord, and do not use a cord that has a lower rating.
Smoking is the fifth highest cause, but is the leading cause of home fire deaths.
Many things in your home can catch on fire if they touch something hot like a cigarette or ashes. It is always safer to smoke outside.
- Never walk away from lit cigarettes. Put them out all the way.
- Do not smoke after taking medicine that makes you tired, as you may not be able to prevent or escape from a fire.
- Never smoke around medical oxygen, which can explode if a flame or spark is near.
Let’s not forget the candles. They are pretty to look at but are responsible for approximately 24 home fires reported every day. December is the peak month for home candle fires, with the top two days being Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn and blow them out when you leave a room or go to bed. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.
If you do burn candles, use sturdy candleholders that won’t tip over easily and place them on an uncluttered surface. The NPFA recommends using flameless candles in your home. They look and smell like the real ones.
“Stay vigilant,” Good says. “Double check before you leave a room or your house. Make sure everything is unplugged or turned off.”
Major consideration should be given to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as we transition into the cooler season.
“Not knowing when or how often to check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms could lead to a dangerous situation. Fall and spring are a good time of the year to check the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms,” Good says.
These alarms are responsible for protecting you from house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. If you fail to check them regularly, you run the risk of having a detector malfunction when you need them the most.
How many smoke detectors you need? That depends on the size of your living area. According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), the average three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a basement and attic needs nine smoke detectors and at least four carbon monoxide alarms.
“Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas. If people in the house all of a sudden begin to feel sick for no reason, there’s a good chance they are breathing carbon monoxide,” Longenecker says.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas on the ceiling or high on the wall.
- Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
- Keep smoke alarms away from the kitchen, at least 10 feet from the stove, to reduce false alarms
- Use special alarms with strobe lights and bed shakers for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.
- Learn about the different types of fire extinguishers; not all will work on every fire. For home use, NFPA recommends a multi-purpose device large enough to put out a small fire but not so heavy that it will be difficult to handle.
“And don’t delay calling 911 to report a situation, even if you think the situation is under control. Don’t assume that things are not going to change rapidly and suddenly get out of control. Call right away and let the professionals deal with the situation,” says Longenecker. “Lives are precious and irreplaceable.”
Here are few fire safety strategies to keep your family protectedÑ
Install the right number of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Test them once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
Teach children what smoke alarms sound like and what to do when they hear it.
Assemble an emergency kit that includes first aid items, bottled water, food, identification information, any necessary prescriptions, additional clothing, a flashlight (don’t forget extra batteries), and a spare credit card or money.
Make sure that all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home and know the family meeting spot outside of your home.
Establish a family emergency communications plan and ensure that all household members know who to contact if they cannot find one another.
Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year. Press the test button on the smoke alarm or yell “Fire” to alert everyone that they must get out.
Make sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1 and teach household members to stop, drop and roll if their clothes should catch on fire.