Will you know what to do if your house or a building you are in catches fire? How can you be ready for such a terrible event? According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an estimated 236,200 one- and two-family residential building fires are reported to United States fire departments each year and cause an estimated 1,980 deaths, 8,525 injuries and 5.5 billion dollars in property loss. One- and two-family residential building fires account for 65 percent of all residential building fires, representing the largest subgroup of residential building fires. It is important to be prepared in case a fire happens to you and your home.
To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire. 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. The best thing to do is to get out, and get out fast. Once you are outside, use your cell phone to call 911 for help or use a neighbor’s phone.
Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can damage your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Smoke alarms are the best tool to wake you up during a fire; gases from the fire itself may put you into a deeper sleep.
Protecting yourself from a house fire involves these simple steps: Prevention, Preparation, Detection, and Reaction.
The best house fire is one that didn’t happen. According to FEMA, some of the leading causes of residential fires are cooking, heating, electrical malfunctions, and open flames.
Here are some tips to prevent these fires:
- Stand by your pan! Never leave items cooking on the stove unattended. If a fire starts in a cooking pan, the best way to put it out is to turn off the heat & put a lid on the pan. Don’t throw water in the pan or move the pan to the sink, as this can spread the fire.
- Keep the stove top free of clutter, and keep nearby areas clean and uncluttered.
- Install an automatic fire suppression system on the range hood. These small, economical fire suppression canisters attach to the range hood via magnets. When a stovetop fire occurs and the flame reaches the device, the fire suppressing powder is automatically released onto the fire.
- Keep children away from the stove area while cooking.
- According to FEMA, approximately 1/3 of home heating fires were started by space heaters. If you use a space heater, never leave it unattended or turned on over night. Even space heaters approved by regulatory agencies can malfunction and cause fires.
- Have your heating system and your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional on a regular basis.
- The leading cause of fatal heating fires was flammable objects placed too close to a heat source so make sure that anything that can burn – paper, cardboard, upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses, bedding – is far enough away from the heat source. If it feels warm, it’s too close!
- Make sure your wiring complies with the building code. Have repairs and remodeling done by a licensed professional contractor.
- Consider having additional circuits or outlets added by a qualified electrician so you do not have to use extension cords.
- Make sure appliances and their cords are in good working condition. Replace or repair damaged or loose electrical cords.
- Avoid running extension cords where people might step on them and damage them, such as across doorways or under carpets.
- In homes with small children, make sure your home has tamper-resistant (TR) outlets.
- Avoid overloading outlets. Plug only one high-wattage appliance into each outlet at a time.
- If outlets or switches feel warm, or have frequent problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuits, or flickering or dimming lights, call a qualified electrician to investigate and fix the problem.
- Place lamps on level surfaces, away from things that can burn, and use bulbs that match the lamp’s recommended wattage. Don’t leave lamps turned on while you are out of the house, especially if you have pets, who might knock the lamp over.
- Make sure your home has ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the kitchen bathroom(s), laundry, basement, and outdoor areas.
- Consider having a qualified electrician install arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) in your home. AFCIs will shut off electric power if a dangerous electrical arc occurs, such as when a lamp cord has been damaged.
Open Flames and Smoking:
- Never leave a candle or an open flame unattended, and keep small children away from any flame.
- If you smoke, consider smoking outside. Make sure every cigarette or cigar is thoroughly out and placed in a fireproof container.
- Never smoke in bed or anywhere you might fall asleep.
If you have any questions about fire hazards in your home or want a firefighter to check out your home for hazards, call your local fire department and ask for their help.
The time to prevent a fire is now!
Even the most careful person can have a house fire. The key to being safe is to have a plan and prepare ahead of time.
- Keep a phone next to your bed so you can call 911 quickly if a fire breaks out at night.
- Make a plan for how everyone will get out of the house. Be sure your plan includes pets, small children, and anyone with special needs.
- Determine the best escape routes out of your house. Make sure doors open easily, and everyone can get them open.
- Plan 2 ways out of every room, even the rooms on the 2nd story. If you plan to go out the window, make sure the windows open and the screens come out.
- Consider buying fire escape rescue ladders for 2nd story windows, and practice using them. A fire escape rescue ladder is a portable ladder that usually folds up for easy storage and fits through a window.
- Plan how you will get pets, small children, and others with special needs out of the building.
- There is less smoke by the floor, so get low. Practice crawling out of your house. Practice with your eyes closed – it will be dark in the smoke.
- Have a meeting place near your house, where everyone will go and check in. Then you will know whether everyone got out of the house or not. If someone is still inside, be sure to tell the firefighters when they arrive.
Fire Extinguishers:The number one priority in a fire is to get everyone out. A fire extinguisher can be used to extinguish a small contained fire or make a path to an exit. Keep in mind that fire and smoke spread very quickly, and don’t try to put out a growing fire by yourself. Before the fire, read the directions on the fire extinguisher and practice using one.
Once you have made your plan, practice! Stage home fire drills, just like you did in school. But I’m going to need …
- Remember that once a fire starts, you must get out of the house and get out fast. There will be no time to gather belongings or look for anything. However, there are important documents and other things that you will need after you evacuate your home.
Documents: Make copies of all important documents. Keep them off-site in a secure location, such as a bank safety deposit box or other safe place. Include these documents: passports, birth certificates, Social Security cards, wills, deeds, trust documents, drivers license, state ID card, financial documents, insurance information, prescriptions, and any other information you think you might need. Ask your insurance agent what information you will need after a fire, and store a copy of this information with your other valuable papers.
Many people store their family pictures and other important documents in their home computer. Consider backing up your computer(s) using an offsite service so you can easily restore the contents.
The other stuff :
Everyone should have a “Go Kit”, a bag they can grab on their way out of the house, to take other important things with them.
Go Kit Guidelines
- Each member of your household should have his or her own Go Kit.
- Go Kits should be easy to carry and sturdy.
- Go Kits should be stored in an easily accessible location.
What should be in your kit? Anything that you will need in the next 2 or 3 days, that you won’t be able to easily buy or replace. The contents vary with the person, but here are some suggested items that most people may need:
Go Bag List
- Legal ID such as an Illinois State ID
- List of people to call and phone numbers
- Extra cell phone charger
- Car and house keys
- Prescription medication for a week, with copies of the prescriptions
- List of doctor(s) and phone numbers
- Small first-aid kit
- Extra pair of glasses or contact lenses
The time to make your plan and put your kit together is NOW, before the emergency.
If the best fire is one that is prevented, then the second best fire is the one that was quickly detected and responded to.
Most fire deaths occur in homes without a working smoke alarm. A smoke alarm can alert you to a fire in another part of the house and wake you up at night when a fire starts while you are asleep.
Things To Know About Smoke Alarms:
- There are different kinds of smoke alarms: ionization and photoelectric. Ionization smoke detection is generally more responsive to flaming fires. Photoelectric smoke detection is generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering (called “smoldering fires”). Some smoke alarms combine both of these technologies. Both flaming and smoldering fires cause deaths in residential fires. There is no way to predict what kind of fire you will have, so it is best to have both kinds of technology working in your home.
- Smoke alarms are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These devices use strobe lights and vibration devices to warn of the fire.
- Some smoke alarms can be linked together, either wirelessly or wired, so that when one alarm goes off, they all go off, making it much more likely that you will hear the smoke alarm quickly.
- Some smoke alarms are Wi-Fi enabled and can use an app on your smart phone to let you know that they have detected a fire and where it is.
- You should test your smoke alarm monthly and replace the batteries yearly. The smoke alarm itself should be replaced at least every 10 years. If the smoke alarm makes a chirping noise, it is time to replace the battery.
Smoke alarms are economically priced and are widely available at many hardware stores and home improvement stores.
What will you do when you discover the fire? Your first priority is to get everyone out of the building as fast as possible. When the smoke alarm sounds or you see the fire, you may only have seconds to get out of the house. Now is the time to use the plan you practiced!
- If you can get to your go kit quickly without endangering yourself or others, grab it and get out.
- Remember that smoke and gases are toxic, and that they will rise to the ceiling. If smoke is present, get as low as possible and crawl along the floor to your exit.
- Before opening a door, check and if any of the listed items are true, don’t open the door! Use your second way out.
• Is the door hot?
• Is the knob hot?
• Is there smoke coming around the door?
- If you have a fire extinguisher, try to use it to clear a path to the nearest exit.
- If someone is trapped in the house, call 911 and tell the dispatcher. Tell the firefighters when they arrive.
- If you can’t get out, close the door and cover the vents to keep smoke out. Call 911 and tell the dispatcher. Hang something from your window as a signal to the firefighters.
- If your clothes or someone else’s clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll.
• Stop – the victim stops moving immediately.
• Drop – the victim drops to the ground, preferably lying down, and covers his face with his hands.
• Roll – the victim rolls on the ground and puts out the fire by depriving it of oxygen.
• Call 9-1-1 immediately and follow the dispatcher’s instructions.