Smoke is responsible for three out of four deaths. Install smoke detectors on every level of your home and outside of sleeping areas. Test every detector at least once a month. Keep smoke detectors dust free. Replace batteries with new ones at least once a year, or sooner if the detector makes a chirping sound. If you have a smoke detector directly wired into your electrical system, be sure that the little signal light is blinking periodically. This tells you that the alarm is active. Inexpensive smoke detectors are available for the hearing impaired.
They remain your best bet if you’re on the spot when a fire begins. Fire extinguishers should be mounted in the kitchen, garage, and workshop. Purchase an ABC type extinguisher for extinguishing all types of fires. Learn how to use your fire extinguisher before there is an emergency. Remember, use an extinguisher on small fires only. If there is a large fire, get out immediately and call 911 from another location.
Thinking Ahead: Your Exit Plan
As with other things, the best motto is, “Be Prepared.” Prepare a floor plan of your home showing at least two ways out of each room. Sleep with your bedroom door closed. In the event of fire, it helps to hold back heat and smoke. But if a door feels hot, do not open it; escape through another door or window. Easy-to-use window escape ladders are available through many catalogues and outlet stores. For instance, First Alert sells one for around $90. Agree on a fixed location out-of-doors where family members are to gather for a head count. Stay together away from the fire. Call 911 from another location. Make certain that no one goes back inside the burning building. Check corridors and stairways to make sure they are free of obstructions and combustibles. To help cut down on the need for an emergency exit in the first place, clear all unnecessary items from the attic, basement, garage, and closets.
Remember, you’re deliberately bringing fire into your home; respect it. Use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from flying. Don’t store newspapers, kindling, or matches near the fireplace or have an exposed rug or wooden floor right in front of the fireplace. Have your chimney inspected by a professional prior to the start of every heating season and cleaned to remove combustible creosote build-up if necessary. Install a chimney spark arrester to prevent roof fires. When lighting a gas fireplace, strike your match first, then turn on the gas.
Under some circumstances, dangerous heat can build up in a dryer. Never leave home with the clothes dryer running. Dryers must be vented to the outside, not into a wall or attic. Clean the lint screen frequently to keep the airway clear. Never put in synthetic fabrics, plastic, rubber, or foam because they retain heat.
Electricity, the silent servant, can become a silent assassin. It is better not to use extension cords. If you feel you must use one, make sure that it is not frayed or worn. Do not run it under a rug or twist it around a nail or hook. Never overload a socket. In particular, the use of “octopus” outlets, outlet extensions that accommodate several plugs, is strongly discouraged. Do not use light bulb wattage which is too high for the fixture. Look for the label inside each fixture which tells the maximum wattage. Check periodically for loose wall receptacles, loose wires, or loose lighting fixtures. Sparking means that you’ve waited too long. Allow air space around the TV to prevent overheating. The same applies to plug-in radios and stereo sets, and to powerful lamps. If a circuit breaker trips or a fuse blows frequently, immediately cut down on the number of appliances on that line. Be sure all electrical equipment bears the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. In many older homes, the capacity of the wiring system has not kept pace with today’s modern appliances. Overloaded electrical systems invite fire. Watch for these overload signals: dimming lights when an appliance goes on, a shrinking TV picture, slow heating appliances, or fuses blowing frequently. Call a qualified electrician to get expert help.
Careless cooking is the number one cause of residential fires. Never leave cooking unattended. It’s wise to have a fire extinguisher near the kitchen. Keep it 10 feet away from the stove on the exit side of the kitchen. Never pour water on a grease fire; turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid, or close the oven door. Keep pot handles on the stove pointing to the back, and always watch young children in the kitchen. Don’t store items on the stove top, as they could catch fire. Keep kitchen appliances clean and in good condition, and turn them off and disconnect them when not in use. Don’t overload kitchen electrical outlets and don’t use appliances with frayed or cracked wires. Wear tight-fitting clothing when you cook. Here’s why: An electrical coil on the stove reaches a temperature of 800 degrees. A gas flame goes over 1,000 degrees. Your dish towel or pot holder can catch fire at 400 degrees. So can your bathrobe, apron, or loose sleeve. Be sure your stove is not located under a window in which curtains are hanging. Clean the exhaust hood and duct over the stove regularly, and wipe up spilled grease as soon as the surface of the stove is cool. Operate your microwave only when there is food in it.
Children and Grandchildren
One-fourth of all fire-deaths of children are from fires started by children. Keep lighters and matches out of the reach of children. Never leave children unattended with fire or space heaters. Children are naturally curious about fire, so keep an eye on them. But if a child repeatedly plays with fire or seems to have a morbid fascination with fire, seek professional help at once. If youngsters live with you or stay overnight occasionally, be sure that they know how to escape from every room and are part of your emergency exit plan.
Gasoline and Other Flammable Liquids
Those cans aren’t painted red just for the fun of it! Flammable liquids should be stored only in approved safety containers, and the containers should be kept outside the house and garage in a separate storage shed. Gas up lawn equipment and snow blowers outside, away from enclosed areas and any source of sparks or heat. Start the equipment 10 feet from where you filled it with fuel. Don’t fill a hot lawn mower, snow blower, or other motor; let it cool first. Never clean floors or do other general cleaning with gasoline or flammable liquids.
If you actually believe that you’re immune from cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other ills, at least worry about burning to death. Never smoke in bed. Don’t smoke when you are drinking or are abnormally tired. Use large, deep ashtrays, and empty them frequently. Never dump an ashtray into the trash without wetting the butts and ashes first.