If you learn and practice fire safety, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to a dangerous and deadly fire. Below the skilled burn injury attorneys at The Levin Firm provide a summary of good fire safety practices recommended by the American Red Cross and the National Safety Council.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that every 24 seconds a fire department in the United States responds to a fire. In fact, U.S. fire departments respond to well over one million fires each year. The occurrence of fires and related fatalities has significantly decreased over the last several decades, but far too many people still suffer injury or death from fires. Aside from fires ignited from a lightning strike, the vast majority are preventable and close to three-quarters of the nation’s fires occur in the home.
Install, Test, and Maintain Smoke Alarms
A properly working smoke alarm is often your first defense against suffering injury or death in a fire that occurs in your home. In fact, the NFPA estimates approximately 60 percent of home fires occur in houses without smoke alarms or with smoke alarms that are not working correctly. You should have a smoke alarm on each level of your home.
The NFPA recommends you install alarms inside bedrooms and near sleeping areas either on the ceiling or high along a wall. Also, make sure you do not install fire alarms too close to the kitchen, to avoid setting them off every time your cooking gives off too much smoke. Test your smoke alarms each month, replace batteries each year, and replace the entire alarm after 10 years.
Make a Home Fire Escape Plan
If your smoke alarm goes off because of an in-home fire, you will typically have only a couple of minutes to exit your house. This does not give you time to plan on the run. Instead, you need to make a fire escape plan with your family, so they know where they should exit the house in the event of a fire. You should include two exits for each room, typically a door and a window and ensure that doors and windows work properly.
Examine your house for other options, such as using a ladder to lower yourself from a second-story window. If you live in an apartment or condo building, an elevator should never be part of your escape plan; always use the stairs. Finally, choose a meeting place that is a safe distance from your home, so you can ensure everyone made it out safely.
Hold Household Fire Drills
Creating a home fire escape plan is essential for fire safety, but it isn’t as effective during a fire if you do not practice the plan. Hold fire drills with your family at least two times each year. Mix up the times of your drills and implement some realistic scenarios such as the lights don’t work, some doors are blocked, or that you must escape from a window. The more prepared you are for real situations, the better your chances of avoiding injury or death if a fire occurs. You can also have your family practice the drill with their eyes closed, crawling as if they are under smoke, and force them to cover their mouths so they don’t inhale smoke.
According to the American Red Cross, cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires and related injuries, and unattended cooking causes 90 percent of cooking-related fires.
Aside from never leaving food to cook unattended, some other precautions you can take to avoid a kitchen fire include:
- Always remain in the kitchen when frying, grilling, or broiling food. These are the most dangerous cooking methods, so if you leave the kitchen, you need to turn off your stove.
- When simmering a soup, baking, boiling, or roasting something in the oven, use a timer so you do not forget the oven or stove is on.
- Do not wear loose clothing that can catch fire while you cook near an open flame.
- Keep flammable items away from your oven and stove. Some culprits include oven mitts, potholders, food packages, and grocery bags.
- Do not allow grease to build up on or around your cooking surface.
- Whenever you leave your house or go to bed, quickly walk through your kitchen to make sure you have turned all appliances off.
Turn off Portable Heaters or Avoid Them Altogether
Space heaters and other portable heaters, whether electric or fuel operated, can cause a dangerous house fire. If you must use a portable heater, you should never leave it unattended. Always place a space heater on a level, fireproof surface, such as porcelain tile, not on rugs or a carpet (which have a high risk of catching fire). One of the greatest dangers of portable heaters is that they can fall over and ignite anything nearby. Try to purchase a portable heater that shuts off automatically if it tips over. Also, keep children and pets away from space heaters to prevent severe burns and to avoid starting a fire if the heater falls over and does not automatically turn off.
Teach Your Children About Fire Safety
In addition to holding fire drills with your children and teaching them about the dangers of heaters and other hazards, take time to explain other fire safety measures to them. First, when a fire does occur, some children hide from danger under their bed or in their closet. You need to reinforce that this is not safe and they need to follow the plan.
Additionally, you should never let young children cook by themselves. Also, instruct your children to stay at least three feet away from the stove, so they do not accidentally knock something over and start a fire or suffer a burn. Finally, teach your kids “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” to prevent horrible burns if they catch fire.
No Smoking Allowed in the House
Fortunately, smoking cigarettes is not nearly as popular as it was a few decades ago. Yet, if you are a smoker or live with a smoker, you should institute a no smoking in or near the house rule. A spark from a cigarette that has not been properly extinguished can ignite carpets, beds, rugs, curtains, clothes, and much more on fire. Additionally, if you have a carbon monoxide leak—you should also have a carbon monoxide detector and care for it the same way you do your smoke alarms—lighting a cigarette can cause a deadly explosion and fire.
Avoid Using Candles
Candles are fire. They can ignite anything nearby. According to the American Red Cross, almost 40 percent of candle fires begin in bedrooms. The safest choice you can make is to switch to flameless candles or other methods of infusing aromas into your home.
Yet, if you insist on using candles, follow these guidelines:
- Keep lit candles at least one foot away from items they might catch fire such as curtains, mattresses, bedding, books, paper, clothing, and furniture.
- Never leave a room without blowing out a candle and always blow out your candles before bed.
- Use candle holders made from sturdy, non-flammable material.
- If you have pets or children, place your candles out of reach.
- Keep lighters and matches that you use to light your candles away from pets and children.
- Keep candles away from any toxic or flammable liquids.
Use the Right Light Bulbs
Each lamp and light fixture in your home has a recommended wattage for the light bulb you use. When a light bulb blows and you don’t have the wattage you need, it is tempting to throw any light bulb that fits into the fixture or lamp. This is not a problem if the wattage is below the maximum allowed; using light bulbs with a higher wattage than recommended in a lamp or light fixture, however, can cause a short or cause the lamp or fixture to overheat and catch fire. Always use the light bulbs that coincide with the recommended wattage to avoid a fire hazard in your home.
Inspect Electrical Systems
Whether your home is newly constructed or was built a century ago, poor electrical systems can cause a house fire. In fact, electrical malfunctions constitute one of the leading causes of house fires. Loose wires, bare wires, and broken wires can cause a short that throws a spark. Hire an experienced electrician to examine your home for potential fire hazards and make any necessary changes.
You should also ensure your outlets are tamper-proof if you have young children. Sticking the wrong item in an outlet will not only hurt your child, but it can also cause a spark and/or fire. Sometimes electrical fire hazards are highly visible.
Call an electrician as soon as possible if you start to notice:
- Dim lights
- Flickering lights
- Sizzling, humming, or buzzing sounds
- Circuit breakers that regularly trip
Do Not Overload Electrical Outlets
When you build a house, you have the opportunity to install as many outlets as you need. In current times, we all have computers, printers, tablets, cell phones, laptops, and a wide array of small appliances that must be plugged in. If you live in an older house, you likely have limited electrical outlets. This means extension cords and splitters are integral to getting the access you need to an outlet. Yet, when you overload an electrical outlet, you will not only trip a circuit breaker, but you can also start a dangerous fire. Limit the number of plugs you use per electrical outlet. If you do not have enough outlets to meet your needs, your best bet is to hire an electrician to add a few more outlets for your convenience.
Keep Your Campfires/Bonfires Safe
If you live in a single-family home and have a patio, deck, or yard, relaxing around an outdoor fire pit can be a fun way to spend a cool summer or fall evening. Yet, without taking the proper safety measures when you have your fire, you risk lighting your home on fire and suffering burn injuries, some of which might be fatal.
Contain your fire. Depending on the type of home you live in and the layout of your outside space you can contain your fire in several ways. Some choose to use big rocks to make a fire ring and others buy portable, metal fire pits. Whether you build your own fire pit with rocks or you have a portable fire pit, keep it a safe distance from your house. Once you start a fire, embers fly around. If your pit is too close to your house, an ember could ignore your home, potentially causing injury.
Wear proper clothing. Whenever you have a backyard campfire or bonfire, you need to wear appropriate clothing. Loose pants, shirts with dangling sleeves, and long scarves are only a few clothing items that might ignite when you are tending to the fire. Proper footwear is also important. Rubber-soled athletic shoes and flip-flops can easily catch a spark and start on fire. It’s much safer to wear shoes that have hard soles.
Safely extinguish your fire. Housefires can occur when people do not completely extinguish their backyard fires. Once you have enjoyed a nice evening around a fire with loved ones, you can safely put out the flames and ensure your fire is fully extinguished by following these steps:
- Drown your fire with a bucket of water.
- Mix soil with the ashes and glowing embers.
- If you have any remaining partially burned logs, scrape hot embers off of them.
- Stir all glowing embers to ensure they get wet.
- Do not leave the fire until your firepit or rocks are cool to the touch. If anything is still too hot, you risk the fire reigniting when you leave.
Fires are dangerous and they lead to severe burns, catastrophic injuries, and death. If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one as a result of a fire, contact an attorney to learn about your legal rights to compensation.