House or Structure Fires
Every year, more than 4,000 people die in fires in the United States. More than 25,000 are injured, many of which could be prevented. Direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $8.6 billion annually.
It is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire.
Fire spreads very quickly and there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call.
A fire can become life-threatening in just two minutes.
Your home can be engulfed in flames within five minutes.
Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can burn your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may actually fall into a deeper sleep.
Most people fear being burned alive.
In actuality, you are more likely to suffocate than burn.
Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.
What to do Before a Fire
Discuss fires and evacuations in your Family Disaster Plan. Make sure to include the children. The more information you share with them,
the more secure they will feel should something happen.
Smoke Alarms and Fire Extinguishers
Smoke Alarms, in good working order, can cut your chances of being killed in a house fire by fifty percent.
♦ Smoke alarms are the key to early warning and escape from your home. Better yet are the combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors. Carbon Monoxide is a gas that has no odor, and is deadly.
Smoke Detectors come in two varieties. One is electrically wired into your home, and the other is battery operated. Should the power go out, the first type will not work. There are some hard wired types with a battery back up.
♦ Make sure to test the alarms once a month. Change the batteries twice a year.
♦ Check with your local Fire Department to find out how many smoke/carbon monoxide detectors you should have in your home, and where to put them. (You should have at least one on each floor, and outside each bedroom. They should be placed on the ceiling or high up on the wall, near the corner of the room, where smoke gathers. Put a smoke /carbon monoxide detector near your kitchen but not in it.)
♦ Check the manufactures instructions on the life span of the detectors you chose. Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors become less sensitive over time, and should be replaced every 5 to 10 years.
♦ Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors work best if they are clean. Vacuum away dust and cobwebs every month.
♦Have Fire Extinguishers in your home. Check with your local Fire Department about the best type to have, and how to use them.
They can also advise you how many to have and where to keep them.
♦ If you store combustibles in your garage, or have a barbecue or fire pit, have a fire extinguisher handy at all times.
♦ If you are remodeling your home, or are building a home, consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system.
► Some Fire Departments will come to your home and go through your house with you and your family to check for fire hazards.
Some stations have open houses and will give presentations on fire safety and prevention.
♦ Have your home inspected by a licensed electrician. Have him pay special attention to areas that are not readily accessible to you, such as the attic. He can also check your fuse box or circuit breaker box to make sure you have the proper ratio of power to household use. Consider updating your box.
♦ Make sure your outlets have cover plates and no exposed wires.
♦ Make sure you do not have wiring run under rugs, over nails, or across high-traffic areas. These can damage the cords. This is even more important during the holidays. For example, people tend to use more cords for Christmas trees, indoor and outdoor Christmas lights and other decorations. Christmas trees are highly flammable.
♦ Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs.
♦ Do not overload extension cords or outlets. If you need to plug in two or three appliances, get a UL approved unit with built in circuit breakers to prevent sparks and short circuits.
♦ Install outlets with built in circuit breakers in your kitchen and bathrooms.
♦ Make sure insulation does not touch bare electrical wiring.
Escaping the Fire - Precautions
♦ Try to have two ways out of each room. If the fire is outside the door, you may have to use a window. All upper floor rooms should have a Fire Escape Ladder, and be stored by the window.
♦ Sleep with your bedroom door closed. Doors act as a "fire break" and helps contain the fire.
♦ Clear anything blocking the area outside the windows. This includes trees or tree branches that might hinder your escape.
♦ Make sure your windows open; that they are not nailed or painted shut.
♦ If you have security grates or "burglar bars" on your windows, make sure they have a safety latch which can be opened from the inside. Practice opening them in your fire drills.
♦ Decide where to meet outside once you have gotten out. Choose a spot far enough away from the house to ensure everyone's safety.
♦ Practice your Family Disaster Fire Escape Plan at least twice a year.
♦ Keep your home free from the "Pack Rat" syndrome. Clean out storage areas. Do not block windows and doors. Throw away old newspapers, magazines, papers, and other flammable material that can fuel a fire.
♦ Always be careful when using alternative heating sources.
Check with your local Fire Department about the legality of fuels, such as kerosene heaters. If you are allowed to use one, refill the heater outside, only after it has cooled down.
♦ Place any space heater at least three feet away from flammable materials. Make sure the floor and nearby walls are properly insulated.
When using a space heater, always read and follow the manufacturer's instructions. When using the fireplace Store ashes in a metal container outside and away from your residence.
♦ Keep open flames away from walls, furniture, drapery, and flammable items.
♦ Keep a screen in front of the fireplace.
Have heating units inspected and cleaned every year by a certified specialist.
♦ Never use flammable liquids such as gas, benzine or naphtha inside the house. Store them in their proper containers outside in a well ventilated area. Read the labels and follow all the directions.
♦ Never have flammables near an open flame or a heat source, such as a water heater, an outdoor fireplace or fire pit.
♦ Never smoke around flammable liquids.
♦ Discard old rags or other materials used with flammables in a metal container outside. Do not throw them in the trash. Contact your city officials on how to discard them permanently.
♦ Insulate your chimney and install a spark arrester. The top of your chimney should be at least three feet higher than your roof. Clear way any tree branches or debris from the area.
Matches and Smoking
♦ Keep matches and lighters away from children. Keep them on a higher shelf. Store lighter fluid for refillable lighters in a locked cabinet. Teach your children the dangers of playing with matches.
♦ Never smoke in bed.
♦ Do not smoke when you are tired or drowsy from medication.
♦ If you smoke, use deep sturdy ashtrays. Do not toss "hot butts" into the trash. Put them in a metal can with water. For outdoor ashtrays, fill them with kitty litter and shove the cigarette or cigar butt down into the litter. This ensured the lit end will be totally suffocated. (This also works well in your car.)
During an Actual Fire
♦ In an actual fire, STAY CALM.
Follow the Plan, Use your Escape Route.
♦ If you have a telephone in the room in which you are, and you are safe for the moment, Call 9-1-1. Tell them where you are in the house. They will talk you through it.
♦ If your clothes catch on fire, STOP, DROP and ROLL. This helps to suffocate the fire. If you see someone whose cloths are on fire, grab your fire extinguisher and use it. If you are outside, you can also use a hose. If someone is burned, call 91-1-1 for medical help. Until help arrives, use the First Aid Steps you learned in the CPR/First Aid class you took.
♦ If you are behind a closed door, with the back of your hand, feel the door before you open it. If it is warn or hot, you could get a burn. It is better to burn the back of your hand that the palm or your fingers, since you may need to use them later for opening a door or window or climbing down a ladder.
If the door is cool:
Open the door slowly to make sure the fire and smoke are not blocking your way out. If they are, close the door immediately and use your alternate escape route, such as the window. If the route is clear, leave and close the door behind you. Get out of the house and call 9-1-1 from a neighbors. If the route becomes smoky, be prepared to crawl on the floor below the smoke. Remember, smoke is highly toxic. Smoke and heat rise. The air near the floor is cooler and clearer.
If the door is warm:
♦ Do not open the door.
♦ If smoke, heat or flames block all of your exits, stay in the room with the door closed. Stuff clothing or some other material under the door to keep out the smoke. Exit through the window. if this is not possible, keep the window closed (so you do not create a draft, pulling the smoke and fire into the room. Place or hold a brightly colored piece of material up so that the firemen know where you are.
♦ Once you are out of the house, Do Not Go Back Inside!
Remember, your safety is your number one priority! Do not become another victim!
♦ Call the Fire Department from a neighbor's home. (see Call 9-1-1)
What to do After a Fire
♦ If you or someone in your family has been burned during the evacuation, cool the burn area with water only! Tell the firemen when they arrive on scene there is a burn victim, or Call 9-1-1 to give them the added information. Burns can be life threatening. Learn how to care for Burns in a CPR/First Aid class.
♦ Call your insurance company to report the fire and any losses you have sustained.
If you are a tenant, contact your landlord as soon as possible.
If you have renter's insurance, or you are the homeowner,
contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
♦ Wait to re enter the building to gather valuables until the Fire Department tell you it is safe. It may be the next day. If you had important papers in a metal lock box, do not open the box if it is still warm. Wait until it has cooled off completely. Otherwise the heat can cause the contents to catch on fire when the box is open.
♦ Ask a neighbor to keep a watch on the house until you can get someone can come to board it up until repairs can be made.