Fire Safety at Home
Statistics about fire are frightening. In America, about 30,000 people are injured and nearly 4,800 die from fire each year. This rate is lower than in most other countries. Differences in fire codes, building and electrical standards, and even firefighting capabilities can increase or decrease your threat from fire depending on local capabilities. Your risk can be significantly amplified if you are overseas in underdeveloped areas.
Three vital facts you should know about fire:
- It isn't usually fire that kills; it is the products of combustion--smoke, toxic gases, or superheated air.
- Fire travels at lightning speed – up to 19 feet per second.
- The critical hours for a house fire are 11 PM to 6 AM when most people are asleep.
You should look at Fire Safety in three phases: Prevention, Detection, and Response.
Prevention: There is plenty of information available from your local FD or on the internet about preventing fires: proper storage or disposal of combustibles, avoiding overloading of electrical circuits, and avoiding a stove top or cooking fire are the things you should be considering. I also want to mention holiday decorations like a Christmas tree that can dry out and then ignite (and burn rapidly) and if you have a fireplace or other open flames in your home, that you properly contain that fire.
Carelessness with cigarettes is the most frequent cause of house fires. Never smoke in bed!
Open flames and the resulting sparks are dangerous. Don't place barbecue grills or other open flames on the balcony or near the house.
Check for: faulty electrical wiring; overloaded circuits; faulty equipment, including cooking and heating appliances; leaking propane tanks; overloaded or frayed extension cords; dirty chimneys and vents; and flammable liquids.
Keep a fire extinguisher in the house, preferably one on every level but particularly in the kitchen. Consider having one in each bedroom. Teach older children and household help how to use the extinguisher. The fire extinguisher at a minimum should enable you to exit the building, if the fire cannot be completely extinguished, get out and call 911.
Detection: You want to detect a fire early, and you must move quickly when you do. You and your family can avoid becoming a statistic if you:
- Install smoke detectors in your home.
- Pre-position extinguishers and other necessary gear.
A smoke detector can mean the difference between life and death. They are inexpensive and are battery operated; they are not at the mercy of sporadic electrical service. You should have one on every level of your home, particularly in the hallway outside bedrooms. Test your detectors regularly, and replace the batteries as needed--usually twice a year.
Fire – Extinguishers
I have placed a fire extinguisher in every bedroom and one in the kitchen. Note – these aren’t necessarily to put out the fire, they are to enable your family to get out of the building. I also want to mention that you should consider your fire extinguisher like a weapon – be conscious of what is downrange of the extinguisher stream. You don’t want to spray burning materials on someone standing on the other side of the flames.
Additionally, everyone in my family has a flashlight by their bed and a smoke mask. This piece of kit costs about $60 but it might be invaluable in a fire. Many victims succumb to smoke inhalation. You can add a fire blanket if you like but equip your family with things that are going to help them get out of the burning building alive!
When a fire starts, your reactions need to be immediate. We had a stove top fire in my house years ago. When I heard the words FIRE! I was up and running to the alarm and grabbing the extinguisher and dousing the flames. It was instinctive for me since I had planned for that contingency and practiced it. By the way the force of the stream coming out of the fire extinguisher made quite a mess (see note above – make sure no one is down range of your fire extinguisher). You and your family should create a Fire Exit plan together.
Learn how to escape the house from every room. You should have two means of egress from any room, particularly bedrooms. If the fire blocks one way out, you can take the other. Designate a meeting place outside the house. Most importantly--especially if you have children--PRACTICE YOUR PLAN! If your bedrooms are on the second floor – how will you get down if the stairway is blocked – think about it now. If you live in a condo, apartment building or other multi-story structure – make sure you are aware of the fire evacuation plan and know how to execute it. We frequently advise travelers not to go above the 8th floor of a hotel. Fire truck ladders cannot reach much higher than that. Lower is better.
In closing, I just want to mention that your fire escape plan might conflict with your home security plan. Making your home hard to break into might also make it hard to get out of. Just keep this in mind – if your home is such a fortress that it is difficult to break into, someone trying to get in might just decide to burn you out (I know there is a movie where that happened – bonus points for anyone who can name the film). So you have to balance both of these requirements so your prep for one situation doesn’t put you at risk in another one.
De Oppresso Liber