Be Prepared: House Fire

Posted on: November 5, 2014

I love fires, properly contained and controlled, of course. I can spend hours watching flames dance and listening to wood crackle. But, if the flames are shooting out from your windows and the wood crackling is the studs in your walls, that’s not a wonderful thing. Taking just a few precautions can greatly limit your exposure to this risk.

First, you should have multiple smoke detectors in your home. I recommend a bare minimum of one on each level of the house, including the basement and attic. So, if you life in a two-story home, that could mean at least four detectors. Listen, smoke detectors aren’t expensive. Good ones, like this First Alert one, goes for less than eight bucks on Amazon. If you can afford the expense, place one near the bedrooms, one in or near the kitchen, and one near the furnace, again, though, ensuring you have at least one on every level of the house.

The common plan is to test the smoke detectors twice a year, often coinciding with the time change to and from Daylight Savings. Consider going a step further and testing them once per month. Really, this should only take a grand total of maybe ten minutes. You could even get the kids involved with this, provided they are able to safely climb a step stool to reach the smoke detectors. On top of testing them regularly, I also suggest you swap out the batteries once a year, whether they test good or not. Better to be safe than sorry, right? Use the old ones as part of your fire kits in your BOBs. Coupled with some steel wool, they make for a fun way to get a fire going.

Carbon monoxide detectors should also be present in the home. As with smoke detectors, there exists a wide range of products. They have generally come down pretty far in price compared to what they were when they first came out. I think we spent around $60 for our first one, back in 1995 or so. Whichever model you get, avoid locating it high up in vaulted ceilings and such. It might take a while for the CO gas to get to the detector if the alarm is too high up. Just place it a few inches down from normal ceiling height. I like to keep mine near our gas furnace, as that is the most likely place we’d see a gas leak.

Fire extinguishers are also important to have on hand. Keep one in the kitchen, but away from the stove. Think about it — where are you most likely to see a kitchen fire? Near the stove or microwave oven, right? Does it make sense to keep your fire extinguisher right next to where the fire is likely to be? Keep it nearby, say in a lower kitchen cabinet, but not next to the stove. Look for an extinguisher that is rated for A, B, and C types of fires.

A = Normal combustible materials, such as wood and paper.
B = Flammable liquid, such as gasoline, propane, and oil.
C = Electrical fire.

When using a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS:

P = Pull the pin.
A = Aim at the base of the fire (not the flames themselves).
S = Squeeze the trigger.
S = Sweep the nozzle from left to right, again at the base of the fire.

So, what’s the plan if a smoke alarm goes off? This is something every family member should know. Get out of the house as quickly as possible and meet at a chosen spot, such as under the oak tree next door. If you’re in a closed room, feel the door. If it is hot to the touch, there are flames on the other side and that route is a no go. Bedrooms on upper levels should be equipped with safety ladders that can be quickly implemented for evacuation, should normal routes not be safe.

If smoke is present, get down as low as you can and cover your mouth and nose with a shirt or other fabric. Crawl until you reach a door or window through which you can escape.

Evacuation drills should happen regularly, so every person in the home knows exactly what to do and where to go.

What can you do to limit your fire risks?

Have your chimney cleaned at the beginning of every season. Creosote build up leads to bad things.

Any candles or oil lamps should be closely monitored when in use. Be careful around them and ensure all younger family members know how to behave when they are in a room with these little open flames.

Don’t leave food cooking unattended for long periods of time. If there is food on the stove or in the oven, you should be in the area checking on it. This will help you from ruining dinner, whether because it gets burnt to a crisp or because a battalion of fire fighters showed up.

Use common sense. Patio grills, whether propane or charcoal, are not be to used indoors, not even in a garage. If you’re not willing to stand in the rain or snow, then broil the steaks in the oven.

Practice fire safety year round. Invest in smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and a couple of fire extinguishers, just in case.

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