Each year more than 3,275 people die and 15,575 are injured in home fires in the United States. To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basics about house fires. Fire spreads quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames. If you wake up to a fire, you won't have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly and the smoke is too thick. There is only time to escape.
Every day, Americans experience the horror of fire but most people don't understand it. Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may fall into a deeper sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a 3 to 1 ratio.
Before a Fire
In the event of a fire, remember that every second counts, so you and your family must always be prepared. Escape plans help you get out of your home quickly.
Twice each year, practice your home fire escape plan. Use these tips to help prepare and plan:
- Find two ways to get out of each room. If the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke, you will need a second way out. A secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows. (Only purchase collapsible ladders evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory.)
- Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and security bars can be opened.
- Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
- Windows and doors with security bars must have quick release devices to allow them to be opened immediately in an emergency. Make sure everyone in the family understands and practices how to properly operate and open locked or barred doors and windows.
- Teach children not to hide from firefighters.
- Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut. Make sure security gratings on windows have a fire safety opening feature so they can be easily opened from the inside.
- Consider escape ladders if your residence has more than one level.
- Teach family members to stay low to the floor (where the air is safer in a fire) when escaping from a fire.
- Clean out storage areas. Do not let trash such as old newspapers and magazines accumulate.
Older adults and people with access or functional needs should live near an exit, on the ground floor of apartment buildings. If you live in a multi-story home, arrange for those with issues getting around independently to sleep on the ground floor, near an exit. Check all exits to ensure walkers and wheelchairs are able to pass through easily. You may need to make necessary accommodations, such as providing exit ramps and widening doorways, to facilitate an emergency escape.
A fire safety plan is a necessity for older adults, and family members with access or functional needs. Speak to your family, building manager or neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them. Reach out to your local fire department's non-emergency line and explain your special needs, and ask them to keep your special needs information on file. It is also helpful to keep a phone near your bed, ready to dial 911 if a fire occurs.
A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.
- Install both ionization AND photoelectric smoke alarms, or dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors.
- Test batteries monthly.
- To Test a Smoke Detector Battery:
- Press the test button on the unit and wait for it to sound.
- Light a candle and hold it six inches below the detector so the heated air will rise into the detector.
- If the alarm does not sound within 20 seconds, blow out the candle and let the smoke rise.
- If the alarm still does not sound, open the detector up and clean the unit. Also make sure that all of the electrical connections are in good working order.
- Then, test the unit again. If it is still not working, replace it immediately.
- To Test a Smoke Detector Battery:
- Replace batteries in battery-powered and hard-wired smoke alarms at least once a year (except non-replaceable 10-year lithium batteries)
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends installing smoke alarms both inside and outside of sleeping areas.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions when installing smoke alarms.
- Replace the entire smoke alarm unit every eight to 10 years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking—it can be a deadly mistake. Open a window or door and press the “hush” button, wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air or move the entire alarm several feet away from the location.
For people with access or functional needs, caregivers are encouraged to check the smoke alarms of those who are unable to do it themselves. There are a variety of smoke alarms available:
- Audible alarms for visually impaired people should pause with a small window of silence between each successive cycle so that they can listen to instructions or voices of others.
- Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light are available for the hearing impaired. Contact your local fire department for information about obtaining a flashing or vibrating smoke alarm.
- Smoke alarms with a strobe light outside the home to catch the attention of neighbors, and emergency call systems for summoning help, are also available.
More Fire Safety Tips...
- Only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers should consider using them when appropriate. Contact your local fire department for information on training in your area and what kind to buy for your home.
- Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.
- Ask your local fire department to inspect your residence for fire safety and prevention.
In the Bedroom:
- Sleep with your door closed.
- Do not wrap electronic cords against walls where heat can build up.
- Keep bedding, clothes, curtains and other combustible items at least three feet away from space heaters.
- Only use UL-approved electric blankets and warmers. Check the cords to make sure that they are not frayed before each use.
- Never smoke in bed.
- Replace mattresses made before the 2007 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard – law outlining specifications for safer mattresses.
In the Kitchen:
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing and operating cooking equipment.
- Plug microwave ovens, toasters and other cooking appliances directly into the outlet, as opposed to an extension cord. This can overload the circuit and can cause a fire.
- Do not leave frying, grilling or broiling foods unattended.
- Check on simmering, baking, roasting and broiling foods regularly, and set timers to avoid burning food.
- Do not place potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper and plastic bags, food packaging and towels near the stovetop.
- Always keep the stovetop, oven and burners clean.
- Do not allow pets to stand or jump on hot surfaces or countertops.
- Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that can dangle onto stove burners and catch fire.
In the Yard:
- Remove all dead plants, trees and shrubs from around your home.
- Reduce excess leaves, plant parts and low-hanging branches.
- Replace dense flammable plants with fire-resistant plants.
Helping you to avoid claims is just one of the many value-added services we provide. At Marshall & Sterling, our expertise will help you to ensure that your home is properly covered in the event of a fire. Please let us know how we can help!