FIRE SAFETY STARTS AT HOME
It is a cool evening as you tuck your children into bed. Tired, but secure in the knowledge that your kids are safe and sound, you quickly fall into a deep sleep. Suddenly you awaken to a strange sound. Smoke fills your room and the unmistakable heat of a fire snaps you to consciousness. Your first thought is of your children. You fight through the murky smoke to find your kids. By following the muffled cries for help, you locate the first two and manage to drag them outside to safety. As you try to re-enter the burning structure, smoke and heat from the rapidly growing fire drive you back. Panic overwhelms you as you realize it is now impossible to reach your other three children who are now trapped inside the raging inferno. You are overcome by feelings of fear, rage, helplessness, and despair. It all happened so fast. What could you have done to prevent it.
Could this happen in your home? The parent in this story did not think it could happen to him but, the cruel reality of losing three children to a fire changed all that. None of us are immune to fire. We can, however, take steps to greatly reduce the chances of fire hurting ourselves and our families. Let's take a tour through your home and see what you can do to reduce the chances of a fire occurring in your home.
HOW CAN FIRES START IN THE HOME
Fires can start in many ways, most of which you can control. Let's explore some fire safety aspects within the different areas of your home.
Burns come from places other than open flames. The kitchen is full of appliances that, by design, become hot. It is no coincidence that many fires start in the kitchen.
1. Loose fitting clothing can easily catch fire while cooking. Sleeves can easily ignite if they come in contact with a hot burner.
2. Pot handles should be turned in when they are being used on a stove top. If not, they can easily be spilled on yourself or your child.
3. Good housekeeping habits are important around stoves and other cooking devices. Any ignitable items left on or too close to a cooking device has the potential for causing a fire.
4. Keep a tight fitting lid handy when cooking. It can be used to smother a fire in a pan. Baking soda or a fire extinguisher can also be used.
5. Ovens should never be used as a heating device. They are not designed for this use and it is dangerous toheat your home with them.
6. When you barbecue, have a water source handy. Stay well clear of ignitable objects, both to the side and overhead. Lighter fluid is similar to gasoline, treat it accordingly.
7. Microwave ovens can heat things enough to cause significant scald burns. Use care when uncovering or stirring foods.
8. Establish a "safe area" in the kitchen where a young child may be placed, away from risk but under supervision.
9. Water and electricity do not mix. If you or an appliance are wet, stop what you are doing until things dry.
10. Be suspicious of electrical appliances or equipment that do not work properly. Clues might be a strange "tingle" when touched, or an unusual or hot smell. Flickering lights and frequently blown fuses (or tripped circuit breakers) are also warnings.
LIVING ROOMS AND BEDROOMS
These rooms are not particularly dangerous by themselves but what you put in them may be, especially for children. Put yourself in your child's shoes. Get down low and look at things from their point of view. You might be surprised at what you see. Many things, especially electrical items, may cause serious injury or death to an unsuspecting child.
1. Outlet plugs or other devices should be used to block a child from inserting objects in electrical outlets.
2. Electrical cords should be kept out of the way and let children know they are not playthings or chew toys.
3. Portable heaters should be used according to manufacturers recommendations. Placement too close to ignitable objects may result in fire.
4. Kerosene heaters should only be fueled with the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never refill heaters indoors or when they are hot.
5. Fireplaces and woodstoves must be installed according to fire codes. The codes include minimum distances to be maintained from ignitable objects.
6. Flammable liquids should never be used to start a fire indoors. An explosive build-up of fumes could have disastrous results.
7. Fireplace screens, to contain flying embers, are a must.
8. Discarded ashes from a fireplace or woodstove may be hot enough to start a fire or melt a plastic bucket two or three days after the fire went out. Always use a metal bucket.
9. Chimneys must be kept clean and in good repair. Have them inspected annually.
10. Do not smoke in bed. Smokers and smokers carelessness contribute to a great number of fires. Be conscientious in your use of ashtrays and the safe disposal of matches and cigarettes.
BATHROOMS AND LAUNDRY ROOMS
These rooms may be sparsely furnished but they contain many heat producing devices. Check closely for potential hazards.
1. Dryers are nothing more than a large heater that rolls clothes around inside. Treat it accordingly.
2. Lint screens should be cleaned on a regular basis. Excessive lint build-up can cause fires.
3. Overloading of a dryer can cause overheating which can result in a fire.
4. Hot water heaters should be turned down to 120 degrees. This will not only prevent scald burns but it is more energy efficient.
5. Frayed or damaged electrical cords can cause heating that may cause a fire.
6. An extension cord should only be used if it has the proper amperage rating for the device it will be supplying.
GARAGE AND YARD
These places may act as a catch-all for many things you have no other place for. Poor housekeeping is a fires friend. Do not give fire a place to start.
1. Your furnace or heating equipment should be checked and serviced at regular intervals. Change furnace filters, service burners, clean ducts, and clean heating elements.
2. Fuses and circuit breakers should never exceed the designated rating or be bypassed in any way. This could result in the dangerous heating of wires, which are hidden in the walls. This is difficult to detect until the fire is well on its way.
3. Move lawnmowers away from gasoline fumes before starting and cool the engine before refueling.
4. Keep flammable liquids stored in tightly closed metal containers. Do not use them while smoking, near a furnace, or near an open flame.
5. Saturated cleaning rags should be in closed, airtight containers to avoid spontaneous combustion.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT FIRES?
The best way to prevent a fire is to follow the ideas we have already listed. However, if a fire does get started, there are steps you can take to help minimize the danger and damage that a fire can create.
Smoke detectors have done more to save lives than any other fire safety development in current history. As the story at the beginning of this article illustrates, a properly placed and maintained smoke detector will warn you of a fire when you are most vulnerable, while you sleep.
A household fire extinguisher can help you stop a fire once it starts. A good household fire extinguisher is a 2A 10BC rated dry chemical extinguisher. The 2A means it is equivalent to the extinguishing capacity of five gallons of water. The 10BC means it will extinguish ten square feet of flammable liquid fire and not conduct electricity. Knowing how to use the extinguisher is as important as having one. If you intend to have an extinguisher in your home, learn how to use it. But never delay calling the fire department simply because you have a fire extinguisher.
Some important issues to consider when you have children present are to post the emergency number, (9*1*1 or the emergency number for your area) your own telephone number, and your address on your telephone. In an emergency, a babysitter or other caregiver not familiar with your home might not remember these important facts to pass on to the emergency dispatcher.
Everyone in your household should be familiar with how to escape in the event of an emergency. By having an escape plan that includes an outdoor meeting place, you will know who made it out of the house and who did not.
Something else that gets many children in trouble is the availability of matches and lighters. Children as young as one year old have been known to manipulate lighters and cause fires. Never underestimate the curiosity and resourcefulness of your child.
Fire safety is a responsibility you have to assume for yourself. If you are a renter, your landlord has certain responsibilities to maintain the residence in a safe condition but the things you place in the house are your responsibility. One major area of responsibility that rests with the landlord is the smoke detector. In Oregon, all rental units must be provided with a working smoke detector at the time a renter moves in. The renter is responsible to maintain that smoke detector. However, if the battery goes dead and the renter notifies the landlord in writing, the landlord then has ten days to provide a battery for that smoke detector. (Check with your local fire agency for exceptions to this.)