Fire Prevention Week is observed every year during the week of October 8 to commemorate the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on that date in 1871. The jury is still out on the O’Leary’s cow theory, but today, we know reliable ways to make our homes safer. Here are some tips on how to prevent fires at home so you and your family can have a safe and enjoyable autumn.
Smoke alarms are the first (and perhaps most important) tool in the fire prevention toolbox. The risk of perishing in a house fire is cut in half in homes with properly working smoke alarms. In fact, new homes being built today are required to have hard-wired, interconnected smoke alarms with battery backups on every level of the home, outside each sleeping area and inside every bedroom. Make sure your smoke alarms are working properly by testing them each month using the test button and listening for the loud siren. If the sound is weak or nonexistent, you need to replace the alarm’s batteries. Smoke alarm batteries should be changed at least once a year (do it during Fire Prevention Month!) or twice a year for the best protection. Changing the batteries when you change the clocks for daylight saving time is an easy way to remember to do it twice a year. If you’ve lived in the same home for a few years, check the manufacturing date on the inside of the alarm and replace any alarm that was built more than ten years ago.
Cooking brings family and friends together, offers an outlet for creativity and can be a relaxing hobby after a long day, but cooking is also the leading cause of house fires in America. When cooking, keep your focus on the food! Unattended cooking – walking away from an active kitchen flame – is to blame for most kitchen fires, so stay alert when something is on the stove. Keeping your counters clutter-free is an easy way to prevent kitchen accidents. Store any flammable items, like wooden spoons or fabric oven mitts, well away from the stove and cooking areas. Another important cooking tip is to keep a pot or pan lid nearby for grease fires. In the event of a small grease fire, smother the flames by sliding the lid over the pan, turn off the burner and leave the pan covered until it has completely cooled. Never use an oven to heat your home! If a fire does occur in the oven, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
Candles are a wonderful way to enhance a room with a soothing scent, but their open flames make them another common source of house fires. To prevent causing a fire with candles, only use them on a sturdy, uncluttered surface at least one foot away from anything flammable. Keep your hair and loose clothing away from the wick when lighting, and store any matches or lighters away from children in high-up, hard to reach areas. Always blow out a candle before leaving the room or going to bed. Try to avoid lighting a candle in the bedroom close to bedtime as you might fall asleep with it still burning.
We all love curling up with a good book next to the glow of a warm fire, but heating equipment, when not used properly, is one of the leading causes of house fire deaths. Always use a sturdy screen on your fireplace to keep errant sparks from flying into your home. You should let ashes cool completely before storing them in a metal container a safe distance away from the home. When using a space heater, keep anything flammable at least three feet away from the heater, and always make sure to turn it off when leaving the room or going to bed. Having your heating equipment and chimney cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional every year is the best way to ensure a toasty autumn and winter without unnecessary danger.
Sometimes, no matter how careful you’ve been, the unthinkable can still happen. If a fire does occur in your home, you should have a plan to prevent harm coming to your family. Create a fire escape plan, making sure that everyone in the home knows at least two ways out of each room and ensuring that all doors and windows leading outside easily open. Designate a meeting spot (like a certain tree, lamppost or mailbox) that is a good distance away from the house for everyone to meet once they’ve safely escaped. As with most plans, practice makes perfect, so it’s important to frequently rehearse your escape plan with everyone in the home in multiple scenarios (like at night or during the rain) so no one is thrown off during the chaos of a real emergency. If a fire does occur, get out and stay out! Call 911 from outside the home and never go back inside.
As the days begin to cool, more of us will be cooking soothing meals, curling up beside warm fireplaces and lighting our favorite fall-scented candles. By following these tips on how to prevent fires at home, you can enjoy your home this autumn with more peace of mind.