Fire Prevention Tips to Keep Your Family Safe
Fire prevention plans can save lives!
The possibility of your home and belongings catching fire can be terrifying. Imagining your family evacuating a smoldering building can be even worse. The thought alone can make you want to take immediate action to create a plan so everyone will be prepared and know exactly what to do. If you’re moving into a new home (or haven’t discussed the topic recently), there’s no better time than now to focus on fire prevention and preparedness. While it can be uncomfortable to think about, being proactive saves lives. Take time to inform your family of fire safety tips, make sure alarms are in working order, and create a strategy so your family knows what to do in the case of an emergency.
Fire prevention week
This year, Fire Prevention Week is observed October 9-15. The week was established in 1922 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 people homeless, and destroyed more than 2,000 acres. Though recently debunked, legends say that the destructive blaze started when a cow kicked over a lantern in a barn. Regardless of how it started, it’s easy to see that anyone can experience this type of tragedy, making it important to change the way we think about fire safety.
Though there have been several themes over the years, this year’s Fire Safety Week campaign is “Don’t Wait—Check the Date!” This is related to the many misconceptions about smoke alarms — especially the one about when they should be replaced.
Here are some things you can do to prepare for and prevent fires:
Gather fire prevention supplies
According to Kidde, a smoke detector manufacturer and advocate for fire and home safety, several cities and states have begun requiring the use of sealed, 10-year battery smoke alarms. Your city should be able to tell you if this is a requirement in your area. Even if you don’t live where they’re required, experts say that 10-year battery detectors are the best option for protecting your family. As you may be able to deduct, they come equipped with a 10-year battery and are sealed to prevent tampering or battery removal. Whether you use this type of detector or standard detectors, experts recommend replacing them every 10 years — you’ll find the date on the back. If you choose standard detectors, it’s imperative to test them once a month and change the batteries every six months.
*Tip: A good time to change smoke detector batteries is when you change your clocks when daylight saving time begins and ends.
It’s also important to equip your home with a fire extinguisher — or several of them. Key places for these are in the kitchen, near the fireplace, the laundry room, by the outdoor grill, and anywhere else there may be open flames. In addition to equipping your home, it’s also important to learn how to use them. Most fire extinguishers operate with the P.A.S.S. technique:
1. Pull the pin. This breaks the tamper seal.
2. Aim low. Point the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire.
3. Squeeze the handle. This releases the extinguishing agent.
4. Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire.
If there’s any doubt that you can put the fire out, evacuate immediately and call 911. Learn more about when and how to use a fire extinguisher here.
If you have several flammable items (paint, gasoline, car fluids, etc.) in areas like the garage or a workshop, you may want to invest in a flammable safety cabinet. These are fire resistant cabinets designed to store flammable materials.
Make a fire safety plan
Every home should have a fire emergency plan that each member of the family is aware of. To create one, start by walking through the home and identifying easy escape routes in each room. Fires can spread rapidly, making it difficult to exit through the main doors, so inspect all possible exits, and create a plan for when doors aren’t an option. It’s also important to check windows and screens to ensure they’re easy to open. If you’re in a multi-story home, make certain all second story rooms are equipped with rope ladders, and if you live in a tall apartment building, learn how to engage outdoor fire escapes (Read more about fire safety in tall buildings). Once you’re familiar with the best escape routes (two possible exits for each room), put it on paper. The National Fire Protection Association is an excellent resource for creating a fire safety plan.
Once you have a fire safety plan in place, make sure everyone knows exactly what to do in case of a fire by running through it. Make it as real as possible, but it’s fine to tell children to expect a surprise drill — the objective is to practice, not to scare them. “Fire Safe Kids” talks about the three “Ps” — Prevent , Plan and Practice — talk about preventing fires (more on that below), plan your escape and practice safety.
In addition to physically walking through the fire safety plan, it may also be helpful to have children draw a map of their home and discuss fire evacuation options for each room. Explain that in the event of a fire they should quickly exit the house and stay outside. Tell them where the family meeting place is (the mailbox, a trusted neighbor’s house, a street sign, a tree or another landmark) and indicate it on the fire escape plan. Instruct them to tell an adult or call 911 from a cell phone or neighbor’s phone, but NEVER return to the house — even to get pets or toys.
10 top fire prevention tips
Pay special attention to these areas in your home:
- Inspect dryers and washers. According to the NFPA, there were 16,800 fires involving washing machines or dryers in 2010. To prevent fires, have them installed and serviced by professionals, and always keep lint traps and drums clean.
- Practice safety with portable heaters. While great for snuggling up on a cold night, portable heaters can be dangerous. Keep them clean and free from dust and debris, and always place them on a sturdy surface away from other objects. Always extinguish or turn them off when leaving the room or going to sleep. Even if they don’t produce a flame, they can still cause fires.
- Use caution with candles. Candles can look pretty and smell great, but, because they have open flames, they can ignite anything nearby. Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn, and blow them out before leaving the room or going to bed. If you’re concerned about candle fires, consider switching to wax warmers or flameless candles.
- Be a safe cook. Cooking is the number one cause of home fires, according to the NFPA. Be alert and focused in the kitchen, and watch for flammable items like paper, trash or kitchen towels near the cooking area. When you cook, keep your hair and clothing pulled back, and don't leave anything cooking unattended. Use extra caution when frying — grease fires can get out of control fast! Make sure oil levels are safe and won't overflow when you add the food, and always remove excess ice or water from foods before frying as the water can create hazards when it enters the oil.
- Inspect electrical outlets. Replace any damaged plugs or extension cords, and avoid running extension cords under doors, rugs or carpets.
- Have your heater serviced. Verify that everything is in good working order and keep heating equipment free from anything that can catch fire, such as furniture, bedding, clothes or other items.
- Keep lighters away from children. Don't allow kids to play with or use lighters. Even if they use them properly when you're watching, they may be tempted to use them improperly when unattended.
- Keep your grill is in good working condition. Check grills for leaks, breaks and dirt — all of which can be fire hazards. Make sure the grill is on a non-flammable surface, either on concrete or gravel or on a fire resistant mat.
- Minimize holiday risks. Use flameless candles in your pumpkins and other Halloween decorations. Use care at bonfires to keep the area free from any debris that could ignite. Keep Christmas trees hydrated, ensure all lighting equipment is in good working order, and keep candles away from wrapping paper and other decorations.
- Protect fireplaces. Have the chimney cleaned and inspected, and always start with a clean fireplace. Use a fireplace grate and keep doors open during a fire. A metal screen can be placed in front to keep pets and children out, just watch them as it could get hot. Always use proper tools to tend to the fire, and use the right materials to start the fire – don't use charcoal, paper or gasoline indoors. Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house.
Prepare your family for National Fire Prevention Week
With Fire Prevention Week coming soon, now is the perfect time to talk to your family about your fire safety plan, gather fire prevention supplies and practice your plan. If you haven’t started practicing your plan with regular fire drills, or if it’s time for your smoke detector to be replaced or batteries to be changed out, October 9-15 is the time! If you have tips for how your family prepares for these situations, we’d love to hear them.