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Each year thousands of people are injured or killed in house fires. In fact, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA)reports that there are over 365,000 house fires each year and these fires destroy over half a million structures in the U.S.
To protect yourself, your family and your home, follow the fire prevention and safety guide below – then you’ll be prepared for the worst, no matter what should happen.
The Right Fire Prevention Equipment
Be certain that you have installed a working, up-to-date smoke detector on every floor of your home or office building.If you are unsure of what type of smoke alarm to purchase, the best ones should meet the Underwriters Laboratories Standard. These can be purchased at most home good or home improvement stores. You can find one that passed the UL standardized tests by looking for a smoke alarm that has a UL label on the outside packaging.
Once installed, every smoke detector should be tested monthly, to ensure it’s working properly. If a smoke alarm begins to beep, be sure to change the batteries right away. You should also keep extra batteries close to the smoke detectors, that are designated to be used only for them.
The NFPA has estimated that three out of every five deaths due to fire in the home, could have been prevented with a working smoke detector. In fact, in nearly all cases where death occurred there were either non-working smoke detectors or no smoke detectors present in the home.
Properly Install Smoke Detectors
Once you have bought UL approved smoke detectors, you need to install them properly. Smoke detectors should be mounted high on a wall or on the ceiling itself, since smoke rises. As mentioned, smoke detectors should be installed on every floor, including the basement. This will ensure that it can detect smoke no matter where the fire starts in the home or office.
It’s important to install smoke alarms at least 10 feet from any cooking appliance, such as the oven or stove, in order to minimize false alarms due to smoke from cooking.
Using a Fire Extinguisher
You will also want to ensure that you have a fire extinguisher on every level of your home. The fire extinguisher should be small enough that each adult in your home cold operate it and it should be stored in a place that is easy to access, in case of an emergency.
Fires double in size every 60 seconds, so, it’s vital that you know how to use a fire extinguisher correctly. Here are the recommendations from the U.S. Fire Administration regarding how to properly use and operate a fire extinguisher:
Remember the word “PASS:”
Pull the pin. Hold the fire extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and remove the pin to unlock it.
Aim low. Point the nozzle at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.
If you would like some additional training on how and when to use a fire extinguisher, you reach out to your local fire department. Many of departments offer free fire extinguisher training (along with other fire safety training) to residents around their department.
Fire extinguishers need to be checked once a quarter and tested by a professional every two to three years to ensure they are in good working condition.You will also want to read the instructions to see if your fire extinguisher is one that needs to be shaken each month, in order for it to work properly.
When you are checking your fire extinguisher, the U.S. Fire Administration suggests checking the following:
Ease of access
Remember you will be looking for the fire extinguisher in an emergency, so be certain that there is nothing blocking or preventing you for reaching it and that it is easy to get to.
Recommended pressure level
Many fire extinguishers have gauges that show their pressure. You want to make sure that the pressure is where it needs to be so that it works if you should need it.
Ensure that the hoses, cans and nozzles are in working order. Be sure that there is no damaged, dented, or rusted parts. If they are, you will need to replace the fire extinguisher or the parts that are damage. You will also want to remove any dust, oil, or grease on the outside of the extinguisher. These things can cause you to drop the extinguisher if you are in a hurry during an emergency.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
There are five different types of fire extinguishers. Each one is for putting out different kindsof fires.Most homes and offices have a multipurpose fire extinguisher that covers classes A, B, and C. If you need one that is for a specific purpose, you can purchase most types of fire extinguishers at any home improvement store.
However, in the event that you encounter different types of extinguishers, it is helpful to know what each type is typically used for. The Prince Fredrick Fire Department describes the purpose of each type of fire extinguisher as:
- Class A extinguishers: for use on materials like cloth, wood, and paper.
- Class B extinguishers: for use on combustible and flammable liquids like oil, gasoline, and grease.
- Class C extinguishers: best for electrical equipment and appliances like stoves, televisions, and computers.
- Class D extinguishers: for use with flammable metals.
- Class K extinguishers: best for cooking oils commonly found in commercial kitchens, including vegetable oil.
Actions that Prevent Fires
According to the U.S. Fire Administration unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires, accounted for over half of home fires in 2017, followed by the use of unmaintained heating equipment and electrical malfunction. Since we know that these are the most common ways fires start in the home, there are some simple preventative actions we can take to avoid them.
Pay Attention When Cooking
One of the best ways to avoid a home fire is by not cooking unattended. This appliesespeciallyto fryers and deep fryers, as they can splatter and can cause grease fires that spread rapidly.
Be careful not to overfill pots or pans with oil, when the oil gets hot it can splatter on to other surfaces, which can cause a fire. Also, take the time to clean up spills on the stove or in the oven, because grease build-up is flammable. You can also keep baking soda near the stove to assist in extinguishing small grease fires, if they pop up.
You may also want to take note of what you are wearing when you are cooking. Make sure that your hair, sleeves or billowy shirts are pulled back so that they don’t end up dragging against a burner or dipping into a frying pan, causing a fire.
Be certain to keep recipes books, dish towels, potholders, and paper towels away from the hot stove. All these items are highly flammable, and it does take much heat for them to catch fire.
If you are a smoker, avoid smoking in bed or while lying down, so that you don’t fall asleep with a lit cigarette. Avoid leaving a lit cigarette unattended, so that pets and kids can access them on accident. Always dispose of used butts in an ashtray or proper receptacle, as leaving hot butts in the grass or even on the ground can cause a fire.
Be Cautious with Candles
If you choose to light candles in your home, be sure you place them in a tip-proof holder and keep them away from flammable items like blankets and curtains. Never leave candles unattended, even if you are just in the other room. Candles burn quickly, so only light them in a place you can keep an eye on them. Always extinguish candles before going to sleep, if you feel that you might forget or fall asleep, set an alarm to remind you.
Use Outdoor Fire Pits and Burn Barrels Responsibly
If you choose to use a fire pit or to burn things in a barrel, be certain that they are constructed with of nonflammable materials, like stone or concrete. You also don’t want to start a fire in either of these on a windy day, because they can quickly get out of control. Of course, again never leave any fire unattended. It only takes one second and one spark to start a roaring, uncontrollable fire.
When you are using a fire pit or burn barrel, consider keeping a water hose or bucket nearby so that you can put out the fire quickly, if the need arises.
Take Care of Appliances
Take the time to keep all appliances clean and in good working order. If you have a toaster, you should dump the crumbs from the crumb tray, regularly. Wipe out the microwave often and clean the oven as often as needed. Each of these have the potential to start a fire, if they are not cleaned and maintained, consistently.
Also, consider unplugging appliances that are not being used regularly. Appliances that are plugged in continue to draw electricity even when they are not being used. This means that if the wiring becomes frayed or faulty, it could still cause a fire, even when not in use.
Check Your Dryer
If you have a gas-powered dryer, have it inspected at least once a year, to make sure all of the connections are secure. All dryers should be cleaned of any lint, after each load is finished drying.
Make a point of regularly checking behind the dryer for lint or items that may have fallen there, before they can get overheated enough to cause a fire. You will also want to ensure that all lint is removed from the lint trap area at least once a year, either by a professional or with a shop-vac.
Maintain Electrical Cords
Homes today have numerous cords and wires, that need to be checked every two months for frayed wires or faulty connections. Replace or repair damaged cords immediately. If a cord doesn’t seem to be damaged but starts acting funny, replace it as well. Electrical cords produce heat, so don’t put them under rugs or wedged tightly against furniture.
Use Heating Devices Wisely
Most fire departments suggest avoiding the use of portable or fixed space heaters, altogether. This is because spaces heaters are the second leading cause of fires (and deaths) in the home. If you do choose to use a space heater, before you turn it on, make sure that itis at least three feet away from furniture, blankets, paper, rugs, and anything else flammable. You will also want to carefully inspect them before and after each use, to be certain everything is working properly.
Water heaters that run off gas and have a pilot light should be checked regularly to ensure that everything is in working order, and that nothing is close to the heating element.
If any appliance starts acting up or not working properly, make sure you have them repaired or replaced as soon as possible.
Know How to Shut Off Your Utilities
Learn how to shut off your utilities, including gas lines, circuit breakers, appliances, and fuses. Post clear shutoff directions next to each utility so that someone else can shut them off, if the need arises. Make sure to keep a non-sparking tool handy for turning off gas.
StoreFlammable Items Wisely
Store things like matches, lighters and flammable liquids in a cool, dry place, and out of the reach of children, and away from any heat sources, including water heaters, lamps, kitchen appliances and exposure to sunlight. Many fire departments suggest designating one cool, dark cabinet for flammable products, and letting family members know what belong in it.
Remember that many household cleaners and even cosmetic products can be flammable, to handle these items with care. Keep them away from heat and out of direct sunlight.
Always store combustible items, like gasoline and paint, in their original containers, that were made for store that material. If a container for any flammable liquid begins to develop a leak or starts to crack, transfer its contents into a new container made of the same material as the original.
Create an Escape Plan
Fires can spread rapidly and increase intensity as they do, so every second counts. Therefore, taking the time to create an escape plan can help keep everyone safe in the event of a fire.
You can start creating your escape plan by drawing a floor plan of your home or office that shows all the doors and windows. Share the floor plan with your family or co-workers, so that it can be discussed, and a plan can start to take shape. As you look at the floor plan, try to determine at least two ways out of each room.
If windows in your home have any type of security bars, you will want to ensure that they have an emergency release device, so that they can be opened quickly and easily in an emergency. Keep in mind that emergency release devices won't compromise your security - but they will increase your chances of escaping a home fire.
After you have the escape plan, you need to establish a meeting point that is a safe distance away, and make sure that everyone knows how to get to it, regardless of where they exit the building.Remind everyone to go straight to the meeting place, so that they can be accounted for quickly. This means that they should not stop to look for pets, lost items or valuables until everyone is accounted for and safely out of harm’s way.
If you have some young children or elderly people that might need extra help during a fire, assign someone to help them. You may want to assign a back-up person as well, in case the first is not at home or is unable to assist them.
Also, keep in mind that if your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second-floor rooms. Consider buying an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approved collapsible ladder to use in case you need to escape from upper story windows.
When you look at these ladders, the most important feature to look for is what is called a “standoff”. These are small protrusions that hold the ladder away from the house. This feature creates some extra stability and adequate space for your feet on each rung, so that you can move down the ladder easily.
If an escape from a second or even third floor might be necessary, you will want to practice setting up the ladder to make sure you know how to do it quickly, even in an emergency.
Store the ladder in an easily accessible location, preferably near a window. When storing it, remember that you will need to be able to locate it quickly during a fire.
Review Basic Fire Safety
Remember, you want to get everyone out of harm’s way first, then call the fire department. Smoke is the leading cause of death in fires. That's why it's so important to get out as quickly as possible and stay out. Don’t try to call the fire department while you are still inside, unless you are stuck and can’t get out. Get out first, and then call from your pre-designated meet-up point or a neighbor’s house.
As you talk about your escape plan, remember that during a fire, the cleanest air is 12 to 24 inches above the floor, which means in most cases, you will need to crawl to the nearest safe exit. Because of this, you will want to practice hearing the fire alarm and rolling out of bed, onto the floor, staying low beneath the smoke, as you exit.
During a fire, you will want to be careful not to open a door that if it is hot. Before open a door, carefully touch the bottom of the door itself and the doorknob. If they're hot, don't open them and find another way out. If you do exit through a doorway, if you’re able, close the door behind you, this helps stop the spread of the fire, giving you some extra time to escape safely.
Remember, once you're out, stay out! Never go back into a burning building, for any reason. If someone is not accounted for, let the fire department know when you call them. Firefighters have the training, skills, and equipment to perform successful rescues.
When choosing a way to escape a fire, you always want to choose the one that is the safest, which means the path with the least amount of smoke and heat.
If your clothes catch fire, don’t run. Stop, drop and roll, until the fire is extinguished. If you run, the fire will grow as the air hits it.
Though it might be tough, the U.S. Fire Administration warns about attempting to fight a fire without the proper training and equipment, leave that to the firefighters who have been trained to put the fire out quickly.
Practice Your Escape Plan
While they might be annoying at times, fire drills do save lives. Consider holding your own fires drills, where you can practice implementing your escape plan. Most fire departments suggest having at least two fires drills every year.
When you practice your escape plan, it would be good to exit various rooms, while crawling on your hands and knees, so that everyone gets an idea of what it would be, and what obstacles they might encounter during an actual fire.
You also want to actually exit through doors and windows that might not be opened regularly to ensure they open easily and function properly.
Remember the objective is to practice your escape plan, not scare anyone, including young kids. So, letting them know that a practice drill is coming can be as effective as a surprise drill.
While many of these recommendations above are common sense, due to our busy lives we sometimes forget the basic precautions that prevent major catastrophes such as a fire. So, even though these things might be common sense, if you choose to act on them you will increase your chances of both preventing and escaping a fire.