By Gordon Williams
Fire Prevention Week runs from October 7th through the 13th this year, and there is reason enough for every American family to make plans to mark the week.
The aim of Fire Prevention Week is to reduce death and injury from home fires.
When it comes to fires in the home, the numbers from the National Fire Protection Association — sponsors of Fire Prevention Week — are grim. U.S. fire departments respond to an average 358,500 home fires a year. Those fires, on average, kill over 2,500 people a year, injure another 12,300 and do nearly $7 billion in damage.
So what can you do to keep from becoming a home fire statistic? For answers, we turned to Megan Phillips, Fire Marshal for the City of Spokane Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division. A 20-year fire service veteran, Megan helps develop and enforce the city’s fire safety code and manages fire prevention programs.
As to what you can do to prevent fires, Megan offers this 10-point Fire Prevention Week checklist:
- Equip your home with smoke and CO alarms and learn how to use them. “That’s the single most important thing you can do,” Megan says. The Red Cross Home Fire campaign aims to outfit homes with working smoke alarms. Consult your local Red Cross chapter for details. Spokane has a smoke alarm blitz planned for October 13th. Goal is to install alarms in at least 75 homes. “We are hoping to install in 100 homes,” Megan says.
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Key to using the alarms properly is knowing where to install them. “Smoke alarms should be placed inside every room where people sleep, outside groups of sleeping rooms and on every level of the home,” Megan says. Put them in a corridor outside the kitchen so cooking smoke doesn’t trigger a false alarm. Keep them away from bathroom doors so steam from a shower doesn’t sound an alarm. Test each alarm monthly and replace batteries annually. Lifespan of a smoke alarm is 10 years so replace all smoke alarms as they approach that 10-year mark.
- Have a family escape plan. Make sure every family member knows two ways out of every room and where the family will meet once everyone is safely outside. Drill periodically so everyone knows what to do in a real fire.
- Close when you doze. Sleep with bedroom doors closed to slow the spread of smoke and heat from a fire. That won’t prevent a fire but it can save lives in a fire. And, of course, never smoke in bed.
- Cook safely. Nearly half of all home fires begin in the kitchen. “Stay in the kitchen when you are frying food,” Megan says. Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Always keep children and pets at least three feet away from the stove. Don’t use water on a grease fire. Try to extinguish it by putting a lid on the flaming pan.
- Heat your home safely. Change the furnace filter monthly and have the furnace serviced annually. Make sure the furnace vents outdoors completely so no carbon monoxide leaks inside the house.
- Keep your fireplace safe. Flammable residue can build up in the chimney. Have a professional chimney service in on a regular basis to clean out residue that could catch fire.
- Keep your electrical system up to date. We use more electrical devices that we used to, and that can increase the fire risk. “Have an outlet for every electrical plug you use,” Megan says. If you need more outlets, use a power strip with a surge protector. Plug each electrical device directly into an outlet. Don’t daisy-chain extension cords to create more outlets.
“Have all electrical work done by a licensed electrician,” she says. “If you have older wiring, have it checked by an electrician for potential fire risk.” Never use a frayed or damaged extension cord. The same goes for strings of Christmas tree lights. Never run an electric cord under a carpet.
- Keep your clothes dryer safe. Built-up lint from the dryer is a potential fire hazard. Clean the dryer’s lint trap each time you use it. Clean the dryer vent—which takes lint outside the house—every month.
- Be wary of candles. Candles can be very dangerous, Megan says, “People have a tendency to light them and forget about them.” Never leave a candle unattended and remember to extinguish any candles before you leave the house. Always place candle holders on a non-combustible surface. She recalls seeing a candle holder placed inside a glass jar directly on top of a TV set. The molten wax inside the jar became so hot it burned through the TV’s plastic case onto the picture tube.
- Plan for the needs of all. “Make sure your family escape plan takes into account any older adults, children or people with functional or mobility issues living in your home,” Megan says. Be certain you can manage everyone’s special needs in case of fire.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, make a special fire safety effort during Fire Prevention Week but keep on top of fire safety all year long. Do frequent checks of all the potential risks in your home, to make sure all are under control. Says Megan, “If you have questions about the specific needs of your household, reach out to the Fire Prevention Division of your local Fire Department.”
Fire Prevention Week, by the way, always comes during the week that includes October 9th. Why is that date special? It happens to be the anniversary of what was arguably the most notorious home fire ever. That was the 1871 fire that began in the O’Leary family’s barn on DeKoven Street on Chicago’s Southwest Side and burned for three days. Before rain put out the last ember, 300 people were dead, 3.3 square miles of the city were burned and 100,000 people were left homeless.