Our homes are usually the most expensive single item we ever buy. Not only do they represent a significant financial investment, but our home is a big emotional investment. They are the places where we raise our families and celebrate our lives. Our homes are our refuge from a busy world – a safe place where we live, love and grow together. Yet in the U.S. alone there are more than 500,000 residential fires every year that are serious enough to require a call to the fire department. Worse yet, every year more than 4,000 Americans die in home fires and approximately 20,000 are injured. Tragic statistics indeed, but equally tragic is that the vast majority of these fires and related injuries and deaths are preventable.
Top Ten Tips for Fire Safety
1. Install Smoke Alarms The single most important purchase you can make for your home is smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms can double your chances of surviving a fire. Most deaths that occur in home fires aren’t from fire, but from smoke. Homes should have at least one one smoke alarm on every level. To make certain smoke alarms are fully functional they should be tested monthly, kept free of dust and have the batteries replaced annually. The smoke alarm itself should be replaced every ten years, or as recommended by the manufacturer.
2. Plan an Escape Route If a fire does break out, you must get out fast. Being awakened by a smoke alarm at 2:00 a.m. is not the time to have to think through how to get you and your family to safety. You must plan ahead by sitting down with your family and go over an escape plan that includes at least two exits from every room. If you live in an apartment building, your escape plan must not include elevators. Finally, when you develop your escape plan decide on a safe meeting place outdoors where everyone meets after the escape. Your household should practice the escape plan two times a year.
3. Beware of Smoking The leading cause of fire deaths is careless smoking. Avoid smoking in bed and take great care to make large ashtrays readily available to smokers throughout your household. Cigarettes can smolder under and around upholstered furniture unnoticed only to ignite into a full blaze minutes later.
4. Take Care Cooking Never leave your cooking unattended. Furthermore, be aware of flammable materials like curtains, dish towels or loose fitting clothing around cooking areas. To avoid accidental spills of hot oil or boiling water be sure the handles of pots and pans are turned inward on the stove so they can’t be bumped or grabbed by children. Should cooking oil in a pan catch fire cover the pan immediately with a lid. Under no circumstances should you pour water on a grease fire. This will cause the fire to spatter and spread.
5. Space for Space Heaters Whether electric, kerosene or some other fuel space heaters need space. They should be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn. Always keep children and pets away from heaters and never leave them unattended when you leave home.
6. Matches, Lighters and Children Don’t Mix Children are often fascinated by fire. Teach your children that matches and lighters are tools, not toys, should never be played with and are to be used only by adults. Store all matches and lighters where children can neither see them nor reach them. Because children are naturally curious, don’t hesitate to check under your children’s bed, in closets and other places where they may hide matches or lighters in their rooms.
7. Use Electricity Carefully Promptly replace cracked or frayed cords on appliances. If an appliance sparks, smells or smokes unplug it immediately and have it repaired or replaces. An all too common cause of electrical fires is the improper use of extension cords. Never run extension cords under rugs and never use an extension cord to overload a circuit. Only a trained professional should service circuit breaker or fuse boxes. If a fuse must be replaced, use only the proper sized fuse for that circuit.
8. Stay Low Under Smoke If you must escape a fire, stay close to the floor. Smoke and toxic gasses rise, and the air near the floor is cleaner.
9. Stop, Drop and Roll If your clothing catches fire, DO NOT RUN! Running feeds more air to the flames and will cause them to spread more rapidly. Instead, stop where you are, drop to the floor or ground, cover your face with your hands and roll around until the flames are covered. Should you encounter a person whose clothing is on fire, cover them with a blanket, rug or coat and roll them on the ground.
10. Treating a Burn The best quick treatment for minor burns is to run cool water over the burn for 10 to 15 minutes. This will cool the burn. Never use ice on a burn. Using ice on a burn may damage the skin or even cause mild frostbite. And contrary to what your grandmother may have told you, don’t apply butter or any grease to a burn. It will prevent air from reaching the burn. If skin is burned severely enough to cause blisters or charring, seek medical attention immediately. Severe burns can easily become infected.
Preventing fires and fire related injuries and death isn’t a matter of luck. It takes planning. Every household should have a plan that includes a home safety checklist, smoke detectors, escape plan and regular safety audit. Make protecting your family, household and valuables from fire a priority. Your life may depend on it.