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Home Care Library

Home Fireproofing: Prevention; Detection; Action

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that each year almost 400,000 homes catch on fire, and these fires claim the lives of 3,500 people and injure approximately 18,000 more.  And unfortunately, children are one of the highest risk groups for deaths in these fires. Keeping your home and family safe from fires involves focusing on three areas:  prevention, detection and emergency actions in the case of an actual fire.


Prevention covers the steps you can take to make sure fires don’t break out in your home. So let’s take a look at the household danger areas that can be prone to starting fires.


 The leading cause of household fires is cooking, particularly the stovetop. And here are several steps you can take to minimize your risk of kitchen fires. Grease accumulation can be dangerous. So keep your stove and oven clean, and also check your vent hoods, regularly clean your filters, and make sure that, if you have an exterior vent, there is nothing in it that impedes the airflow to the outside. If you have a gas stove, make sure your system doesn’t have any loose fittings, leaking valves, faulty pilot lights, or improperly stored flammable materials in areas nearby. Keep all flammables, such as dishtowels and curtains, a safe distance away from the stove. Don’t cook when you are very tired or under the influence of alcohol or medications; as you are more likely to do something careless that could lead to a fire starting. And never walk away from the stove until you have turned off the heat.


 The second most common cause of fires in the home is heating. Furnaces, space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves all can present a risk of fire. In the winter months, when heaters are run most often, this is of particular concern. Make sure your furnaces get a yearly inspection and cleaning by a trained professional to catch any potential troubles before they start. If you use space heaters, make sure they stay at least three feet away from anything flammable, such as curtains or bed linens. Be certain to turn them off before you leave the room or go to bed. For fireplaces and wood or coal stoves, have them inspected by a service professional every year. Don’t store flammables such as newspapers or matches anywhere nearby, or have them too close to exposed rugs or wooden floors. Clear them of ashes and unburned debris on a regular basis. Have glass doors or a wire mesh spark screen across the front of the fireplace to keep the fire safely contained. And install a chimney spark arrester to prevent roof fires (see types, costs, and reviews of chimney spark arresters).


 Smoking is not only the third most common cause of home fires, it’s the top cause of home fire deaths. Almost a thousand people are killed each year due to smoking-related home fires, so it is important to exercise caution when smoking cigarettes in your home: don’t put yourself in a position where you could fall asleep while smoking; never smoke in a home where oxygen is used; And douse cigarette and cigar butts with water before dumping them in the trash. Or better yet, don’t allow smoking at all in your home.

Electrical and Appliances.

 When electrical systems fail they sometimes can result in house fires, but more often the danger lies in incorrectly installed wiring, or from the overloading of circuits and extension cords. Be sure to properly use and maintain your electrical devices. Do not overload your outlets or extension cords. Check the power cords on your appliances. Look for missing grounding prongs of the plugs, damage to the insulation, or frayed wires. Repair or replace them before continuing to use the appliance. Check your house wiring in unfinished areas for damage by pests. Be on the lookout for insulation that has been chewed through by rodents or insects. Check the hot coils of your clothes drying for an accumulation of lint or other flammable materials. Be sure to keep the lint trap, vent piping, and other areas of your dryer clear of lint, as it is very flammable.

Candles, Matches, and Lighters.

 Candles cause an estimated 15,600 fires in residential structures, 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries, and about $539 million in property damage each year. To use your candles safely, do not leave them unattended, or allow children to light them unsupervised. Store matches and lighters in a safe, nonreactive place where children cannot get to them. Always use stable candle holders made of a non-flammable material. Extinguish candles if you’re going to be leaving the room.

Gasoline and Combustible Chemicals.

 Gasoline vapors can explode with even a small spark. If you must store gasoline in your garage, use a special safety container specifically designed for gasoline. But never bring gasoline inside your house. Tightly seal the lids on all combustible chemicals and put them away in a cool location after using them. Store them in a safe place, with a lock if possible.


The next aspect of fire safety is Detection.  Improving detection is about increasing your awareness of the potential for the outbreak of fire in your home, so that you can act quickly.  Examples include:

Smoke Alarms.

 Install smoke alarms on every floor of your house (see types, costs, and reviews of smoke detectors/alarms). There are two kinds of smoke alarms, photoelectric and ionization. For maximum protection buy some of both kinds, or if possible, buy “combination” detectors that have both kinds of sensors. Keep your detectors free of dust and replace the batteries at least once a year. If they begin making a chirping sound, that means their batteries are low and should be immediately replaced. If your detector is wired directly into your electrical system, watch for a blinking red light, as this indicates that the sensor is active. If it is not blinking, then it should immediately be serviced.

Monitored Home Security.

 If you have a monitored home security system, you might want to consider having your smoke alarms connected to your security system. Talk to your security company to see if you can have this done, so that you (and the fire department) can be notified when your alarms go off when you are not at home.

Flickering Lights.

 Keep an eye out for flickering lights, or intermittent power surges. These can be indications that you may have a short in the circuit, which can trigger a house fire.

Frequently Tripping Circuit Breakers.

 Note circuit breakers that trip, or fuses that frequently blow. This is almost always a sign of an overloaded circuit or another wiring issue, which should be solved before it can become a fire hazard.


Finally, we will talk about the actions you should be prepared to take in the case of an actual fire.

Escape Plan.

 First, make sure that everyone in your family knows what to do if there is a fire in your home. Prepare an escape plan and have your family practice it several times a year. Make sure all family members know not to put their lives in danger trying to save property, but instead just take the most direct way outside. And if they must exit through smoke, then drop to the ground to move beneath it and to try to cover their mouths to avoid breathing smoke directly in. Also, if a door feels hot to the touch, do not try to open or go through it.

Rope Ladders.

 If you have a two-story house, each bedroom should have a rope ladder easily accessible, so that your family members can climb down the outside rather than be being trapped (helpful accessory: fire escape ladders).  Designate a meeting location outside the house and take attendance so that you can tell right away who has gotten out safely. This will keep people from endangering themselves going back to look for someone who has already escaped. If someone is missing, alert the firefighters. Do not re-enter the house once you have left it.


 Make sure everyone in your family knows how to “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” If your clothes catch fire, drop immediately to the ground, cross your hands over your chest, and roll back and forth until the flames are smothered out. Cool the burned area with water and call for immediate medical attention for serious burns.

Fire Extinguishers.

 Be sure that high-risk areas of your home, such as your workshop or fireplace, have fire extinguishers nearby, and that each family members know how to properly use it to fight a fire. See that your extinguishers are inspected regularly and re-charged or replaced as needed (see costs and reviews of ABC fire extinguishers).

Stove Fires.

 It’s also useful to know how to deal with a small pan fire that may occur in your kitchen. Immediately suffocate the fire by placing the lid on the pan, turning off the stove, and allowing the pan to sit unmoved until the flames are smothered. Small grease fires can be put out by throwing baking soda on them. But never use water to put out a grease fire, as it will either explode into steam, which can also cause burns, or cause oils to splash and spread the fire.


Now you know the three areas you need to focus on to fireproof your home: Prevention, Detection, and Action. We hope that this has motivated you to take the appropriate steps to keep your family and home safe from the dangers of fires

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