Fire Safety Month
October is National Fire Prevention Month
House fires are every homeowner’s worst nightmare. Fires can start in an instant, spread quickly, and cause severe damage to your home and belongings.
Fortunately, many fires can be prevented. October is National Fire Prevention Month, which makes now the perfect time to get up to speed on what you can do to keep your home and your family safe from fires. It will only take a few minutes to develop strong fire prevention practices and an effective emergency response plan for your home.
The best way to protect your home from fire damage is to make sure a fire never starts in the first place. Preventing a fire requires looking through your home for potential hazards and looking at your own habits for risky behaviors.
Following these general practices can reduce the risk of a house fire:
- Install smoke detectors in every room of the house and test them monthly.
- Consider installing fire sprinklers. In homes where sprinklers were present, 97% of fires are contained to the room they start in.
- Always clean your washer and dryer, paying close attention to any lint screens.
- Use caution with gasoline and propane tanks and equipment in the home.
- Keep matches and lighters where children can’t find or reach them.
- Store combustible materials in well-ventilated areas away from heat sources.
- Keep fire extinguishers in rooms where fires are likely to start, like the kitchen or rooms with a fireplace. Make sure the fire extinguisher has not expired.
Many fires are caused by preventable mistakes. According to FEMA, one out of every three house fires starts in the kitchen. Unsafe cooking practices and leaving the oven or stove unattended are often the cause of kitchen fires.
Here are some tips to prevent kitchen fires:
- Always stay in the kitchen when you are cooking food.
- When using oil, especially when frying, avoid moving the cooking vessel and throwing food into it—doing so could cause oil to splash onto the hot stovetop and start a grease fire.
- Make sure anything that can catch fire—things like dish rags, curtains, and paper towels—are far away from the stovetop.
- When cooking in the oven always set a timer so you don’t forget about your food.
- Keep a lid nearby when cooking on the stovetop. You can use the lid to contain and smother small grease fires before they spread.
Home Candle Fires
The National Fire Protection Association says Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day are the top three days for candle fires in the United States. Roughly 8,700 structure fires were caused per year by candles from 2011-2015, resulting in $295 million in annual property damage.
Here’s how you can prevent a candle fire:
- Always blow out candles when you leave the room and never burn candles in the bedroom or when you may fall asleep.
- Keep candles a minimum of 1 foot from anything flammable.
- Make sure you use sturdy candle holders placed on a sturdy surface like a table.
- Never let candles burn all the way down to their holder.
- Don’t use candles when the power goes out. Have flashlights or battery-powered lanterns ready for use instead.
- Never light candles if oxygen tanks are used in your home.
- Keep lit candles out of the reach of small children and pets.
Electrical distribution and lighting equipment are the #1 cause of direct property damage and the #3 major cause of home fires. Between 2011-2015, 34,000 house fires per year were caused by electrical systems or lighting.
To prevent electrical fires, it is important that all electrical work in the home is done by a qualified electrician. This includes installing new outlets, running wire, and inspections when buying or remodeling a home. Replace all frayed or exposed wires and loose plugs.
Always call an electrician if you frequently blow fuses or trip circuit breakers in your home. In addition, contact an electrician if you feel a tingling sensation when you touch an appliance, an appliance produces a burning or rubbery smell, or lights flicker or dim. Also watch out for discoloration or sparks from wall outlets.
Extension cords can cause electrical fires. This is especially true when they run across doorways or under carpets. This increases the likelihood of extension cords becoming damaged. If you are using extension cords in the home, consider having an electrician install more outlets in your home. Never overload an outlet or extension cord, especially when using high-energy appliances like toasters.
The winter brings cold weather, and with it heating fires. Almost half of all heating fires in the U.S. occur from December to February. Over a four-year period, heating fires caused 480 deaths and $1.1 billion in property damage in homes across the country.
Heating equipment that can cause fires to include furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, and portable space heaters.
When using heating equipment, follow these tips to prevent a fire:
- Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from heating equipment.
- Always have professionals install equipment like water heaters or central heating. Use stationary heating equipment in accordance with local building codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
- Have heating equipment and chimneys inspected and cleaned annually.
- Always use the right fuel for fuel-burning heaters. The manufacturer’s manual will tell you which fuel to use.
- Always turn off space heaters when leaving the room or going to bed. It is a good idea to use a space heater with a timer function and automatic shut-off switch for if it is accidentally kicked over.
- When using a fireplace, use a screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Allow all ashes to cool before putting them in a metal container for disposal.
What to do when there is a fire in your home?
You should always have a plan in place before a fire starts. Make sure everyone in your family knows what to do if there is a house fire. It helps to draw a map of your home with every door and window marked. Know two ways out of every room and make sure all doors and windows are easy to open. Establish an outside meeting place a safe distance from the home, like a mailbox or tree.
Once you have a fire escape plan in place, practice it. You should practice escaping from a house fire twice a year, at night and during the day. Make sure children are capable of escaping from the home on their own. If there are elderly, infants, or people with mobility issues in your home, assign one member of the household to help them escape.
If you have pets in your home, consider getting a front door or window decal that will tell firefighters how many dogs, cats, birds, or other animals are in the home.
If you hear a smoke alarm or see a fire:
- Get out of the home as quickly as possible when you hear a smoke alarm. Stay out of the home and never go back in to look for people or pets.
- Once you are safely out of the home, call 9-1-1 or get a neighbor to call the fire department.
- If there is smoke, stay low to the ground to prevent smoke inhalation.
- When leaving a room with a fire in it, close the door behind you to contain the fire.
- If you are trapped in a room with a fire outside, feel the door and only open it if it is not warm.
- If a fire is blocking your escape route, close all doors between you and the fire. Wave a white sheet out of your window so firefighters can see you and rescue you when they get there. This may be the best plan of action for people living in high-rise apartment buildings.
Take Fire Safety Into Your Own Hands
Ultimately, you are responsible for keeping your home and family safe from a fire. By using fire-prevention tactics and fire-preparedness training, you can stop an accident from becoming a tragedy. Remember to make regular checks of your home to make sure all rooms are fire-safe and discuss fire safety with your family on a regular basis.