Home Fire Safety

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They arrived one by one, meeting under the old oak tree in the backyard until everyone showed up including the family dog. Was this family meeting for an impromptu picnic?

No, these safety-conscious people were taking the steps needed to make sure everyone in the house knew what to do in case of a fire. The drill that they planned and implemented together was not for fun, but it also wasn’t done to scare anyone or cause nightmares. With the holidays approaching fast, this family also knew that participating in a fire drill practice that included a preselected meeting place was just the first step in preparing for a disaster that they hoped would never happen. As the adage goes, “Plan for the worst and hope for the best.” The same is true when discussing the possibility of a home fire.

Fire Prevention Week is observed every October during the week surrounding October 9 and has been since 1922. It’s a week to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that burned more than 2,000 acres and destroyed many homes and lives in the process. The very concept of a house fire is scary and there’s no disputing the fact that devastating house fires do occur. But to help keep loved ones safe and prevent possible tragedy, here are some Fire Prevention Week tips and tactics to implement that will help families prevent a home fire:

Danger in the Kitchen
A fire can be initiated in many ways, especially within the walls of our homes. Perhaps the most common place is in the kitchen. Cooking over an open flame or using grease that splatters can be a recipe for disaster, not dinner. Never put anything on a stovetop that isn’t cookware. This is especially tempting with ceramic-top stoves; their flat surface makes them seem like just more counter space. Mail, boxes, hot pads and so forth should not be placed on the stove either, even if it’s not on. It’s important to monitor the stove and the pots and pans at all times while in use to extinguish any flare ups as they happen.

Candle with Care
Many homeowners think candles are harmless because the flame is contained within a jar or candleholder of sorts. However, it’s possible for the flame to grow as the candle disappears, since more of the wick is exposed and the hot liquid wax is capable of causing fire. The Red Cross advises that parents not leave candles unsupervised; keep them out of the reach of children and make sure they’re pulled away from anything flammable. Lit candles should be centrally located away from curtains, cleaning supplies or furniture and be completely extinguished once you’re done using them.

Holiday Hazards
With the holiday season approaching, it is more important than ever to take steps to stay safe and avoid sacrificing the safety of a home for the sake of decorating. Christmas lights on trees and in windows could become a danger if they’re left plugged in for too long. Even artificial Christmas trees have the potential to melt and ignite. It’s imperative that lights are unplugged while everyone is sleeping and when the house is empty. It’s tempting to leave lights on so the holiday spirit can twinkle in our absence, but the risk is far too great and the temptation should be avoided.

Invest in Smoke Detectors and Alarms
Since most home fires tend to happen while everyone is sleeping, having the added security of a smoke alarm ensures a good night’s rest. Make sure each smoke detector is working and make a point to change the batteries and test them routinely. Two-thirds of home fire deaths each year result from homes with no smoke alarms, faulty smoke alarms or smoke alarms that fail to work because of dead batteries. According to the National Fire Protection Association, working smoke alarms cut the chance of dying in a fire in half. When there is a fire, smoke spreads fast and working smoke alarms give early warning so occupants can get outside quickly.

Fire Extinguisher Know-How
Smoke detectors are not the only fire safety item that needs to be kept working and accessible. Having fire extinguishers in various areas of a home is a safety-savvy idea that experts recommend. They also recommend keeping a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen and even in the laundry room in case dryer lint ignites. Learn how to use it by reading the directions before there’s an emergency and make sure other family members are trained in how to use it as well.
Preventing a fire should always be the goal, but it doesn’t hurt to run through a worst-case scenario once in a while by discussing a family fire drill and checking your home for lurking threats. Preventing a fire is much easier than fighting one. Assess your home and make a plan today. ■

Sources: nfpa.org and redcross.org.