National Fire Prevention Month is winding down, but given the frequency of fire-related deaths and injuries, there's never a bad time to review fire safety tips with your family.
In 2015 alone, more than 2,650 people died in household fires and an estimated 365,500 homes were damaged, according to figures provided by the National Fire Prevention Association. Among the top causes: cooking, heating, electrical malfunction, clothes dryers and tobacco smoking.
Fire safety tips should be practiced often and continuously. But what are the best ways to protect your home over time? We asked the pros and they answered. In addition to having a working smoke alarm (and changing batteries once a year), they suggested smart tips for stopping potential fire-friendly situations before they start.
Cooking fires can be easily avoided
According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the number one cause of home fires and unattended cooking is the behavior associated with the majority of these fires. Another fact: Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires. So on Turkey Day — and every day — follow these smart tips when you’re in the kitchen!
- Be alert! If you’re sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stovetop.
- Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains away from your stovetop.
- Remain in the kitchen while cooking food on the stovetop or in the broiler, and use a timer to remind you to check it regularly.
- Keep an eye on what you fry. Heat the oil slowly to the temperature you need for frying or sautéing. If you see wisps of smoke, that’s a warning sign that the oil’s too hot. Immediately turn off the burner and/or carefully remove the pan from the burner.
- Always cook with a lid beside the pan. If the pan catches on fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time.
- More than half the reported home-cooking fire injuries happen when people try to fight the fire themselves. Before using a portable fire extinguisher, make sure you know how to use one. Also, it's crucial that you have an extinguisher that's the correct type for the fire you're fighting. Also, it’s important that all people have left or are leaving the house, you have a clear escape route and the fire department has been called.
- If you are not comfortable putting the fire out or if the above measures do not work, call the fire department from outside the house.
Heating systems are a major cause of flames
Nearly half of all home heating fires occur in December, January and February. Maintaining your heating system and furnace is imperative in preventing house fires, says Tommy Dutton, Aire Serv franchise consultant. As part of a regular maintenance plan, he suggests:
- Annual inspections and tune ups to keep heating systems and furnaces in peak, safe and efficient operating condition.
- Keep the area around the furnace free from obstructions and flammable items.
- Change the furnace filter regularly for energy efficiency and to keep dust from being circulated through the house.
Space heaters don't need to be dangerous
Between 2009-2013, 84% of home heating fire deaths and 40% of all home heating fires were caused by improper use of space heaters, whether portable or stationery, according to the National Fire Protection Association. To ensure safety when using these devices, NFPA recommends the following precautions:
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.
- Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Have a qualified professional install stationary space-heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
- Have heating equipment cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
- Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
Electrical fires are scary, but preventable
There are two main areas of concern when it comes to electrical fires, states Robert Lummus, franchise owner of Mr. Electric of Fort Worth.
Concern #1: Failure to routinely inspect wiring
If left unchecked, lower quality electrical panels become faulty over time. Lower grade breakers could also become faulty if they’ve gone for years without being moved. To prevent problems, have a professional inspect electrical panels routinely. This includes checking for corrosion or burn/hot spots, tightening all wires to the breakers and testing the breakers. In addition, electricians are aware of certain makes of panels that have known issues and can help identify these panels and provide safe, affordable upgrades.
Concern #2: Electrical work done by non-professionals
Simple projects like changing a light fixture can be done by a knowledgeable handyman. However, only a professional electrician should add a new fan or light fixture.
Easy ways to reduce the risk of dryer fires
Steve Bowles, Mr. Appliance dryer vent cleaning expert, knows firsthand that lint can build up in the dryer vent over time and back up into the dryer, creating a fire hazard. Follow these tips and you’ll not only reduce the risk of fire, you’ll also reap the benefits of shorter drying times, less wear and tear on the dryer, and lower electric bills.
- Make sure you have the correct dryer ventilation system installed on your dryer, per manufacturer recommendations. Moving into a rented home or apartment? Before using the dryer, an appliance expert should inspect the dryer to make sure it has been properly installed.
- Have the dryer duct and the dryer cabinet, which is the inside of your dryer, professionally cleaned once or twice a year, depending on use and type of dryer duct.
- Clean the lint filter before each use and, using a damp cloth, clean along the edges of the lid that holds the filter.
- Remove the lint trap and clean the inside of the machine for the lint that made it through the lint filter.
- After every few uses, wipe the inside of the dryer using a damp cloth to pick up stray lint.
- Every year, have a dryer vent cleaning technician inspect/clean the dryer vent tubing that leads to the outside of the house. Sometimes the duct work for a dryer can become separated inside the wall. This can happen with wear and tear over the years, or if the ducting was not installed properly. This increases the risk for lint building up in the walls, which increases the risk of fires. Using a differential pressure gauge, technicians can conduct an air flow test to determine if a dryer is experiencing any blockages, such as lint build-up in the walls.
Smoking inside the house is the leading cause of fire-related deaths. Here's how to protect yourself
According to NFPA, smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths. To reduce smoking-related fires, NFPA suggests that, if you smoke, smoke outside. For households with non-compliant smokers, it suggests the following:
- Never smoke in bedrooms.
- To detect accidental fires, homes with non-compliant smokers should have smoke alarms in all rooms where smoking takes place.
- Use deep, wide ashtrays on a sturdy table.
- Before you throw out butts and ashes, make sure they are out. Dousing in water or sand is the best way to ensure embers are out.
- Check under furniture and cushions for stray cigarette butts that may have fallen out of sight.
- Never smoke in a home where oxygen is being used.
- Keep matches and lighters up high, out of children's sight and reach.
- To prevent a deadly cigarette fire, you have to be alert. You won't be if you are sleepy, have been drinking, or have taken medicine or other drugs.
How to create a home evacuation plan for your family
Make a plan and practice an evacuation drill with your entire family, including your pets! Here are some other tips, courtesy of ServiceMaster Restore, that should be reviewed with your family before you face a fire head on:
- Assign one person (an adult or parent) to keep track of the cat or dog, so that everyone isn’t looking for a beloved pet during an emergency.
- Draw an evacuation map so that it’s easy for your little ones to understand what their route will be to get outside. Keep it on the fridge year-round so it’s always top of mind.
- Identify two ways out of each room in your home and make sure the exits are always free of furniture or clutter.
- Establish a family meeting spot outside the home – and remind everyone where it is.