House fires kill and injure thousands yearly. Homes are damaged or destroyed and precious memories go up in flames. It’s always useful to learn as much as you can about the nature of fire and its prevention from different available sources, and with a little advance preparation, you should be able to protect yourself and your home from becoming a fire statistic. Here are a few pointers:
*Make a fire safety plan
In the event of a fire, remember that every second count, so you and your family must know exactly what to do. A fire safety plan can save your life! Make sure that you have such a plan and your family members practice it beforehand and are familiar with it. Fire escape planning for kids, older adults and people with special needs should be given extra attention.
*Test your smoke detectors and alarms
See that they are in good working order. Their batteries should be replaced twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall, and the alarm itself should be tested to verify that it functions adequately. If it’s more than ten years old, replace with a newer model. Installing both ionization AND photoelectric smoke alarms, OR dual sensor smoke alarms is a good idea. Never make the mistake of disabling an alarm while you’re cooking…forgetting to reconnect it can cost you dearly.
*Inspect heating sources
Inspect heaters annually for dust and lint buildup before and after each use. Inspect clothes dryers for lint buildup, too.
Space heaters should be placed at least three feet away from anything combustible. If you have a fireplace, install a durable metal fire screen in front of it to catch any sparks that fly when it’s lit.
*Keep fire extinguishers handy
As an integral part of the fire safety plan, every capable member of your family must know how to properly operate a fire extinguisher. All high-risk areas of your home should be equipped with an extinguisher, the most critical of these being the kitchen.
The human error component of home fires is preventable. Be careful about the following:
- Stay in the kitchen when you have food cooking on the stove. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
- Wear clothing that is manageable while you move around in your kitchen; flowing garments with long, loose sleeves are a hazard near a fire.
- Keep children away from cooking areas. Strictly enforce a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet around the stove.
- Even while cooking out on your deck, keep barbecue grills at least 10 feet away from siding and railings, and away from overhanging branches.
- Frayed electrical wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords. Do not hide cords under rugs or position under furniture.
- Never force an appliance plug to fit into a wrong outlet. If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet.
- Light switches that heat up and lights that flicker are a shorting risk. These should be professionally replaced.
- If you must smoke, do it outside.
- Never smoke in a home where oxygen is used, even if it is turned off – it can cause an explosion!
- Completely stub out cigarette butts in an ashtray or a can filled with sand. Do not throw hot stubs in the trash can – these can ignite paper or other combustible items that may already be inside the can.
- If you detect even the slightest smell of gas, shut off all power and call emergency services.
- Never store matches and lighters where children can reach them.
- Keep combustible objects at least three feet away from any heating device.
- Make sure your portable heater is of a reliable and accredited brand, and has a thermostat-control mechanism that will switch off automatically if the heater falls over. Use heaters only in well-ventilated rooms.
- Each year, inspect and clean chimneys and associated pipes. Make it a monthly routine to check for damage or obstructions.
- Make sure the fire in your fireplace is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
You can minimize the risk of fire and fire damage in your home if you rehearse your fire safety plan regularly with those who live with you.