In 2018, a house caught on fire every 87 seconds in the US. Pretty scary, huh? That figure is all the more sobering when you think of all the fires that went unreported because they were caught in time and firefighters weren’t called.
Sure the number of residential fires are way lower than they were, say, 10 years ago (mostly thanks to the presence of smoke alarms in our homes) but the 2,820 individuals who lost their lives to fire in 2018 shows it’s still an ugly threat. In addition to the human cost, fires also have a financial toll. Insurance companies paid out $11.1 billion in damages in 2018—not including for any buildings destroyed by wildfires.
So, fire is obviously something we have to be prepared for. And here’s the best way to arm yourselves against this very real threat to you and your family:
Understand how it works
- It’s fast. For a fire to go from a flame to a thick smoke-filled house, takes around one minute.
- It’s hot. The heat can reach temperatures of up to 600 degrees and cause a whole room to ignite at once.
- It’s dark. It can cause disorientation – and a time when you’re already panicking.
- It’s suffocating. The smoke and odourless toxic gases cause drowsiness and difficulty breathing.
Make fire prevention fun for kids
Kids aged 7 to 11 can join Maya, Chad, Olivia and a group of monsters in games which teach them how to stay safe at home. The Disney-sponsored app Monster Guard can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices. It’s free to download from the American Red Cross.
Smoky the cartoon firedog takes the central role in the National Fire Prevention Association’s (NFPA) public awareness video where he explains the importance of changing smoke alarms at least every 10 years (the date should be on the back of the appliances).
Get real when grilling
No getting away from it, we Americans love our grills but fire safety is a must here too. That’s because even though it’s in the garden, one in five house fires in America are caused by a gas grill. In 2014 a total of 16,600 individuals went to emergency rooms for injuries caused by grills.
In terms of safety the main issue here is to keep the grill away from wooden eaves, decking, fencing and trees. This NFPA video provides grilling safety tips.
Interestingly, not cleaning the grill properly was the number one cause of these fires, closely followed by flammable items sitting too near to the grill.
Keep an eye on the stove
As you’d imagine, the biggest cause of home fires is the stove, followed by dropped cigarettes, sparks from a fire and heaters left too close to furniture/clothing. In the kitchen it’s essential to always watch what’s on the stove and if you can’t, turn it off. Never cook when you’ve been drinking as it’ll make you drowsy and wear close-fitting clothing to prevent sleeves etc catching alight. Ban kids from using the stove.
Most people smoke outdoors these days. If so, don’t flick your cigarette away but put it out in a sand-filled can or ashtray (rather than throwing the cigarette bin in the trash). Check furniture for dropped cigarette butts. Don’t smoke in bed.
Worn wires and cords or faulty appliances can all result in fires. So too can flickering lights (replace the switch or fuse) and overloaded extension cords.
Woodburners and real fires are cosy, atmospheric and very warm. The pipe and chimney also need to be cleaned regularly (at least once a year). Don’t burn treated wood or fire etc in them and make sure none of the logs will roll off onto carpeting. Always put it out before leaving the house or heading to bed.
By the same token, portable heaters should never be left on overnight or in an empty house. Keep the cooled ashes outside the house in a metal bin and put at least three feet between the heater and any flammable items.
- Candles, matches, lighters – keep them all away from kids and pets in a locked drawer (it’s too easy for a dog, cat or child to knock over a lit candle).
- Make sure your mattress was made after 2007 when the government insisted the material used was safer.
- Keeps paint, nail varnish, aerosol cans and other flammables away from heat.
Fire escape plan
This is a must for families and all householders in fact and should be practiced with the whole family (including the dog) around three times a year. Any sitters that are staying in the house should also be made aware of it. The idea is that everyone should be able to exit the house in under a couple of minutes. Other parts of the plan include:
- Looking at every room in your home and work out two ways in which you can get out of it (ie through the window, door, a skylight, an adjoining room, via a ladder which is kept near a window in the room etc).
- Choosing an area in the garden or nearby where everyone should meet in the event of a fire to allow you know if anyone’s still inside
- Teaching everyone in the house what to do in the event of a fire ie crawl along on the floor to avoid smoke fumes, roll on the ground if their clothes catch fire, learn the number to call in order to alert the local firefighters.
It’s worth pointing out the benefits of a fire plan to teenagers who’ve just left home too. In fact, the organisation Campus Firewatch, issue a checklist for students living off-campus following a number of student fire deaths and injuries in recent years.
The spectre of house fires isn’t new, of course, far from it. Even Benjamin Franklin was writing about fire prevention means way back in the 18th century. Meanwhile, here’s a list of further resources to make sure you keep your family safe:
Fire prevention resources
https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/technology/smoke_fire_alarms.html – Everything you need to know about smoke alarms, including the latest technology available:
http://www.nfpa.org/public-education/by-topic/safety-in-the-home – 8 top tips from the National Fire Protection Association for safety in the home:
https://flameretardants.americanchemistry.com/Fast-Facts-on-Fire-Safety-and-Flame-Retardants/ – Flame retardants and their role in fire prevention
http://prevention1st.org/documents/Protect%20Your%20Family%20From%20Fire.pdf – Frightening fire statistics and fire prevention tips from national charity Prevension1st
It’s clear from the above that the two most important things you and your family can do to prevent a fire wreaking havoc is (a) make sure you have a working smoke alarm (preferably on each floor of your house) and (b) have a fire plan and practice it – often.