Fire is responsible for many of our modern comforts, yet is also one of the biggest dangers that we face. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there were 1,291,500 fires in the United States in 2019, leading to over three thousand deaths and a loss of $14.8 billion. Thankfully, there are ways that we can prevent fire hazards and significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of an accidental fire.
1. Keep Out of Reach
A devastating fire can easily be started with an innocent strike of a match. Always keep matches and lights in locked drawers or out of reach of children. Educate your children about fire safety and the dangers of playing with fire. If you have a stove or oven with built-in ignition, lock the oven doors and install purpose-built stove guards and knob covers to prevent children from starting a fire in the kitchen.
2. Smoke Outside
Smoking outside the home is the best way to avoid a house fire. However, if you must smoke in the home, never leave a lit cigarette unattended. Make sure that you use large, deep ashtrays with water inside to fully extinguish cigarette butts. Stray cigarette embers can smolder for hours before igniting. Do not smoke indoors if you are sleepy, drowsy, or intoxicated as you will be more likely to be careless.
3. Cook with Care
Many home fires start on kitchen stovetops. Never leave your stovetops unattended when you are cooking, especially if you are cooking on high heat. Keep flammable items such as curtains, bottles of oil, oven mitts, and paper towels far away from burners. If oil or grease in your pan catches on fire, remember not to splash water on it as that will cause the fire to spread. Cover the pan with a lid to suffocate the flames.
4. Clean Your Dryer
Dryers are responsible for almost 90 percent of appliance fires and 34 percent of these fires occur due to a failure to clean them. Remove all lint from the lint filter and the back of the dryer before and after each cycle. Keep flammable items away from the dryer area and check that the venting system is unobstructed. Never overload your dryer or attempt to dry items containing foam, rubber, or plastic.
5. Heat Safely
Heating equipment such as fireplaces and heaters are implicated in one out of six home fires. Ensure that you keep children and any flammable items at least three feet away from heating equipment. Put out fires and turn off heating appliances when you leave the room or go to bed. If you have a fireplace, use a fireplace screen, clean your firebox after every fire, and have your chimney maintained once a year.
6. Clear the Junk
A messy home can have the potential to become a fire hazard. Clutter such as old furniture or cardboard boxes can catch a spark and start a fire. Piles of leaves, woodchips, or coal stored in warm, damp conditions can even spontaneously combust by self-heating. Toss out or give away any items that you do not need. Make sure you store flammable items far away from heat sources and clear debris away from fire escape routes.
7. Check Your Wiring
Many older homes have less than ideal electrical wiring systems. Issues like deteriorated insulation, lack of ground wires, or aluminum wiring can cause electrical malfunctions that lead to serious house fires. The best way to avoid this is to hire a qualified electrician to thoroughly check and update your property’s wiring. In addition, make sure you inspect your electrical cords and be sure not to overload your electrical outlets.
8. Test Smoke Alarms
According to FEMA, 51 percent of deaths from residential fires occur at night when people are sleeping. You should install smoke alarms on each level of your home, particularly inside bedrooms and in their adjoining corridors. Smoke alarms can be interlinked to sound in unison so the whole house is alerted in the event of a fire. Test your smoke alarms monthly and replace any low batteries.
9. Buy Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers can stop a small fire from growing out of control. There should be at least one multipurpose fire extinguisher for each level of your property. However, it is important to know how to use it correctly. Local fire departments often provide basic fire extinguisher training for minimal cost. Be sure to have your fire extinguishers checked and tested by professionals, and replaced if they are too old.
10. Create a Fire Escape Plan
Despite all your efforts, accidents do happen. A fire escape plan is essential to help you know what to do in case of an emergency. Avoid sleeping in windowless rooms and ensure that every member of your household knows of two possible exits for each room (a window and a door). Keep your escape routes clear and set an outside rendezvous point a distance from the house. Practice your fire escape plan twice a year and at different times of the day and make sure everyone knows how to dial 911.