House Fires: Fire Prevention Through Preparation – Smoke Detectors, Extinguishers, Escape Plans & More
Few things are more devastating to a family than a house fire. The worst fires leave nothing behind, taking a homeowners’ habitation, personal belongings, and many of their memories into the ashes.
National Fire Safety Month occurs each October, and it’s a stark but important reminder to take precautions to protect ourselves and our homes. Many house fires are completely preventable, if the homeowner or occupant had only noticed the dangers and warning signs before flames erupted.
Start your home fire prevention safety inspection with this checklist, beginning from the obvious to the less considered hazards found in many houses:
•Matches and lighters — If you have children around, don’t leave a way for them to start a fire within reach.
•Electrical outlets — Don’t overload one outlet with adaptors and appliances. Too much power use from one outlet can cause it to overheat and start a fire. Space heaters should be used with their own electrical outlet.
•Gasoline and paint — Flammable liquids should be stored in tightly sealed containers in a separate building than living areas. Choose the garage over the basement.
•Fireplace — Chimneys fill up with creosote soot, which can easily catch fire. If you use a fireplace, have it inspected and cleaned annually.
•Electrical Cords — Extension cords and plugs to items like lamps that are run underneath rugs can pose a serious danger. When the rubber wears off of a cord, the wire is exposed and can easily start a fire underneath a rug.
•Stove top — Hot burners and boiling oil can easily cause oven mitts or napkins to ignite. Keep these items away from the stove top. Remember never to use water to put out a grease fire; it causes dangerous flames. Keep a fire extinguisher close at hand in your kitchen.
•Dryer duct — Lint is highly flammable, and dryer ducts should be cleaned out annually.
Sound the Alarm
Fire prevention is the most important step, but even with precautions, it’s possible that a fire could occur. Many deaths from home fires are caused by asphyxiation from smoke, underscoring the importance of early detection.
Working smoke alarms cut the risk of death in a house fire in half. Place alarms in all hallways on each level of your house, including in ‘higher risk’ areas like the laundry room, kitchen, and garage. Place them on the ceiling or high up on the wall, where smoke will rise. If you already have smoke alarms in place, check their battery levels and consider replacing them with lithium batteries, which can last up to 10 years in an alarm. It’s still important to test them monthly, however.
Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are a wise investment, as this odorless gas can spread throughout a home and be a silent killer.
Smoke and CO alarm systems are also now available that hardwire into your home’s electricity (with a battery backup), syncing the alarms so that when one sounds, all the alarms in the house will relay, as well.
Put It Out
Working fire extinguishers are a necessary investment, and they’re the only safe way to put out a grease fire in the kitchen (although small fires in a frying pan or pot can often be smothered simply by putting a lid over the pan). A new type of extinguisher, rated ‘K’, is now available specifically for kitchens and grease fires. They are typically white, not red.
Mount fire extinguishers at your back door exit, in your garage, in your kitchen, and on the stairs to your basement. By putting the extinguisher near exits, you leave yourself the option of getting out if the fire becomes out of control.
Make sure that you know how to use your extinguishers — Pull the pin, aim at the base of the fire, and sweep from side to side.
Know Your Escape Plan
We all remember learning ‘stop, drop, and roll’ in grade school. It’s important that you discuss a fire escape plan with your family that’s specific to your home.
In each room of your house, determine two escape routes. If you have bars or screens on your windows, ensure that quick release fasteners are in place. Collapsible fire escape ladders are another wise investment and can be kept handy in a closet or under a bed, if a room’s window is high off the ground.
In the event of a fire, always feel doors with the back of your hand before opening. If you feel heat, don’t open the door — use another exit.
The selection of October as National Fire Safety Month is strategic, leading into a holiday season when we invite many more fire hazards into our home. To stay safe around the holidays, remember these tips:
•Keep that turkey fryer outside, and don’t overfill the oil!
•Water your Christmas tree. Once the needles begin to dry out and fall, get it out of your house. It’s ready to combust.
•Wrap extension cord connections used outdoors for lights in electrical tape to keep moisture from short-circuiting the connection.
•Real candles in your windows are generally a very bad idea.
Stay safe and enjoy the season! Proper prevention and awareness can mean the difference between a fire drill and a fire disaster.
Chris Long is a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago suburbs. Chris has been helping customers since 2000, and writes on a range of electrical topics, from home automation to LED lighting.
Additional images with permission from the Home Depot.