Every individual and family without exception should understand and follow basic fire safety and prevention tips within their home. It is also very helpful to create a fire evacuation plan a run regular fire drills.
Common Household Fire Hazards
Some of the most beneficial things one can do to prevent fire in their home are to maintain vigilance and perform upkeep. It is unrealistic to avoid basic household necessities such as heating, and this is not intended to unduly distress anyone. However, there are some inherent fire hazards in any home which should be understood and taken seriously.
Heating is a necessary component of almost any home. Household heating is not only used for comfort, but can actually be vital for the health and safety of residents. Heating is often even integral to home maintenance; during cold months it is possible for pipes in the home to freeze and break without proper climate control.
However, heating also comes with some dangers. The majority of house fires resulting from heating equipment are caused by portable or space heaters. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 86% of fire deaths caused by home heating were the result of space heaters. Furthermore, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of home fires related to heating malfunctions occurred during the months of December, January, and February. It is therefore vital to read and follow the fire safety directions listed on any space heaters in your home, as well as their supplemental instructional materials.
Another common cause of heating-related house fires is an improperly functioning furnace. Ensure that your furnace is regularly maintained and cleared of debris, and that any sign of malfunction is promptly attended to.
Cooking is a common cause of house fires, and is also very preventable. The following are basic tips which can help you avoid disaster:
- Do not use cooking equipment such as stoves, ovens, or barbecues if you are sleepy or have consumed an intoxicating substance.
- Do not leave the house if you are actively using hot cooking equipment.
- Regularly check on a cooking meal.
- Set loud timers to remind you when food is finished being cooked.
- Check stoves and ovens to ensure they are off before going to bed or leaving your home.
- Do not leave hot cooking equipment on when it is not in use.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
- In the event of a fire, identify what type of fire you are dealing with before proceeding.
- In the event of a fire, call 911 before the blaze gets out of control.
Electrical sources in the home can cause fires in many different ways. A simple way to prevent electrical fires is to regularly have the wiring in the home checked and updated. It is also important to take care when using plugs and outlets. When it comes to electrical sources:
- Keep liquids away from power outlets.
- Do not use damaged power cords.
- Keep usage of power strips to a minimum.
Take great care with combustible and flammable materials in and around the home, such as:
- Rubbing alcohol;
- Nail polish remover;
- Paint thinner;
- Powdery foods, such as flour.
Store these items as recommended, and keep them away from any open flames or sources of fire.
All of these common fire hazards can be exacerbated if there are pets in the household, and will require additional precautions to manage.
Fire Alarms and Other Emergency Safety Equipment
Fire alarm maintenance may seem like a given, but it is still all too often that people lose their homes or their lives as a result of something as simple as not changing a battery. According to the New York State Department of Health, 70% of deadly house fires occur in homes without functioning fire alarms.
Basic Fire Alarm Upkeep
Of course, the first thing you should do is ensure that there are fire alarms in your home. If you rent your home, state and local laws often require that your landlord provide smoke detectors. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that for maximum results, smoke alarms should be placed:
- On every level of the home;
- In each bedroom;
- Outside each sleeping area;
- The basement.
Secondly, you should regularly check your fire alarms to ensure that they are functioning properly. There should be a test button on the alarm which, when held down, produces a piercing noise. If the alarm does not produce this noise, or only produces a weak noise, the batteries likely need to be changed. Additionally, when the batteries in a smoke detector begin to die, most smoke detectors will produce a “chirp” which is a loud, short noise which it will emit regularly. When you hear the chirp, replace the battery in the smoke detector immediately.
Carbon Monoxide Warning Signs
Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in any home with an attached garage, any fuel-burning appliances, or a fireplace. Outdoor fireplaces and electric fireplaces, however, are safe on this front. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, nausea, and fainting. It may also result in the death of any small animals in the home before it affects humans. If a carbon monoxide leak is suspected, the home should be evacuated immediately.
While residential sprinkler systems are not essential, they can be incredibly helpful in the event of a fire. While sprinkler systems will not necessarily completely put out a fire, they often will at least create more time for people inside the home to escape. An in-depth guide to residential fire sprinkler installation can be found on the National Fire Protection Association’s website.
Depending on local laws, landlords may be required to ensure their rentals are equipped with fire extinguishers. If this is not the case in your area or you own your own home, this is an important investment to make. Fire extinguishers should be in easily accessible locations on each level of your home. It is particularly important to have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
What to Do During a Fire
If you find yourself in an active home fire, the first thing that you should do is begin to act quickly, but calmly. You should then alert other people in the home and promptly make your way to the exit. The following are other important things to do and keep in mind during a house fire:
- Stay low.
- Feel doors for heat before opening them.
- Do not try and take valuables with you.
- Do not attempt to put out the fire.
- Call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so.
- If you have no safe exit, stay in a room with a wet towel tucked under the door. Open a window to flag down emergency personnel.
House Fire Evacuation Plan
It is difficult to stay calm and collected during an emergency. Having a set evacuation plan can help prevent panic and confusion in the event of a house fire.
Your individual fire escape plan will depend on your home, but there are some basic steps that should be followed to create an effective plan:
- Create a template of your floor plan.
- Identify exits.
- Plan escape routes from every room and area in the home.
- Identify a meeting area in a safe place outside the home.
- Ensure everyone, including children, are aware of important emergency numbers to call.
- Assign someone to assist any children, elderly, or individuals with disabilities in the event of a fire.
Your template is very important for your fire evacuation plan, but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated. There are only a few vital details that should be included:
- There should be a complete floor plan, including all rooms and areas.
- All possible exit routes should be labeled.
- All possible exits should be labeled.
- The designated meeting spot should be labeled.
Practice and Preparation
The Department of Homeland Security recommends that families should practice fire drills at least twice a year. Ideally, different members of the household should begin the drill in separate rooms. A designated individual should then sound the fire alarm. At this prompting, everyone should calmly evacuate through efficient routes, and meet at the chosen safe location outside of the home. A successful drill should take no more than two minutes.
Making a habit out of running fire drills becomes even more important in households with children, senior or elderly individuals, or anyone with a disability that might impact their ability to escape during a fire.
Single-Family Homes vs. Multi-Family Homes
A multi-family home, such as an apartment building, can make for a more complex fire evacuation plan. Because there are going to be more evacuating people to manage, it is ideal for multi-family homes to have an evacuation template publicly posted. In the event of a fire in a multi-level building, stairs should always be your exit route; elevators can be dangerous during a fire. Furthermore, fire drills performed in a multi-family home will be most effective if coordinated with the other families residing in the building.
Fire Safety Resources
The following are helpful fire safety resources: