House Fires: Prevention, Preparation, and Other Safety Considerations
In 2017, one home fire occurred every 88 seconds in the United States, and about half of the insurance claims relating to fire were made by homeowners. That same year, 77% of all fire-related deaths occurred in the home. In Canada, 19,062 structural fires were reported in 2014. Around 75% of those fires were residential.
The power of fire should not be underestimated. When a fire occurs, occupants may have as little as 2 to 3 minutes to get out of the house before it's too late. Home fires can reach temperatures of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (760 degrees Celsius). When a flashover fire occurs, windows shatter, oxygen is sucked from the room, and thick, toxic smoke fills the air. Given this, it's obvious why fires are so deadly.
Understanding how to prevent house fires, and knowing how to stay safe in the event of a fire is something every property owner, head of household or parent should consider. Here's what you need to know.
Table of Contents
- Preventing Fires at Home
- Fire Escape Plan
- Protecting Valuables and Important Documents
- Smoke Alarms and Fire Alarms
- Fire Extinguishers
- Accessible Fire Safety
- Other Fire Safety Products and Tools
- Fire Facts and Statistics
Preventing Fires at Home
Most homes are filled with fire hazards. Sometimes these household hazards are obvious, other times they're subtle. The following list is not comprehensive, but is a compilation of some of the most common sources of fire in the home. Whether you're a homeowner or a renter, you can help prevent fires by reading manufacturer instructions when using a new product, installing new appliances and fixtures properly, familiarizing yourself with the most common causes of household fires and by observing possible warning signs of a problem.
It's important to remember that no amount of education or best practices with household devices can completely eliminate all possibility that a fire may occur. Even after reading the following prevention techniques, it's still important to keep your home's smoke alarms in good condition. We'll cover this later on.
Candles, Matches and Lighters
Candle fires lead to about 150 deaths and over a thousand injuries every year in the United States. In Canada, it's estimated that 800 candle-related fires occur every year. In the United States, about half of candle fires begin when a candle is placed too close to combustible materials. In about 1 of 5 of those cases, the candle is unattended. Candles can be burned safely, but they must be placed in a safe location, and be attended at all times. If you're trying to make your old bridge home for sale smell nice before a showing, it's important to practice fire safety. Below are more candle safety tips:
- Place candles in a fire-safe glass container at least 12 inches away (30 centimeters) from combustible materials.
- Trim wicks to about 1/4 of an inch (about 0.6 centimeters) before lighting.
- Use flashlights (not candles) during power outages.
- Never place a candle on a cluttered surface.
- Keep candles off plastic surfaces.
- Never place a burning candle in the way of an air current.
- Keep loose papers far away from burning candles.
- Get rid of candles when they've burned down to 2 inches in height.
- Keep burning candles at least 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) apart.
- Model good candle usage for your children; never play with the flame or the wax.
- After extinguishing a candle, wait for it to stop smoking before leaving the room.
Match Safety and Lighter Safety
Always wet matches before placing them in the garbage. Keep matches out of reach of small children, and teach them to never use matches if they find them somewhere accessible. Lighters are often childproof now, which means they're difficult to light unless someone has manual dexterity. Whenever purchasing lighters, make sure they are child-proof. Never disable the child-proof functionality to make the lighter easier to use.
Appliances, Cords and Outlets
Appliances, cords and electrical outlets are a common cause of household fires. Electrical fires start because of poor wiring, short-circuit arc, appliance malfunction and worn insulation. Many of these fires can be prevented or avoided.
Know the Signs of Potential Electrical Problems
Often, homeowners can see signs of potential electrical problems long before a fire actually occurs. Here's what you should watch out for:
- Lights dimming or flickering
- Wall plates sooty or turning brown
- Hissing sounds in the wall or in fixtures when they turn on
- Switches or outlets feel hot while operating
Misuse of or damage to cords are a common cause of problems. The following advice applies to extension cords and cords for household appliances.
- Don't run cords under the carpeting.
- Check all cords periodically for damage.
- Never plug in two heat-producing appliances into one wall outlet at a time.
- Don't use cords once they become brittle, cracked or frayed.
- Be cautious when using power strips, as these devices make it easy to overload the circuit.
- Never cut off the grounding prong from a cord.
Extension cords should not be used as permanent fixtures. If you find yourself using an extension cord without ever removing or moving it, this is an indication that you need more wall outlets in your home. Talk to an electrician.
When installing a new appliance or new lighting in your home, such as a new washer or dryer, check the electrical load of the wall outlet where it is being plugged in, and know the electrical requirement for the appliance. If the load is lower than the demand of the appliance, then get assistance from an electrician. Inspect your appliances on an annual basis and get them repaired when they break.
About 33% of home fires in the United States are started by space heaters. Most space-heater-related home fires occur in the months of December, January and February.
Why Are Space Heaters So Dangerous?
Space heaters use a lot of electricity and (by design) produce a lot of heat. This means they can easily burn skin, overload circuits, and ignite combustible objects in the home.
Space heaters can be used safely, but you must take the following precautions when operating these devices:
- Never leave a space heater unattended.
- Turn off the heater when you're leaving the room.
- Don't leave the space heater on while you're sleeping.
- Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from all combustible items.
- Never allow children or pets in a room with a space heater.
- Never use a space heater to do anything but heat the room (don't use it to dry wet clothes, heat water, etc).
- Check the electrical requirements before plugging a space heater into the wall.
- Touch the wall outlet after using the space heater for a while; turn it off if the face plate feels warm.
- Keep space heaters out of high traffic areas, and do not place cords across walkways.
- Read all manufacturer's instructions before using a space heater for the first time.
- Do not use space heaters in enclosed places like under a desk or in a closet.
A space heater should never be used as the primary heating device in your house. Space heaters are intended to supplement heat when it's needed.
Laundry rooms combine combustible materials (lint, clothing, natural gas) with heat and electricity, making these rooms a natural fire hazard. Therefore, laundry rooms need proper maintenance in order to stay safe. The majority of laundry room house fires are caused by dryers. Dryer lint is extremely combustible, and dryers themselves get very hot inside. It's easy for a house fire to start if the dryer is not working at its optimum performance.
Below are some best practices that can help you avoid a laundry room fire:
- Always use a lint filter and keep it clean.
- Have your gas dryer installed by a professional, or have it inspected by a professional before using it.
- Never leave the dryer running when it's time to leave the house or when you're going to bed.
- Always follow clothing care instructions; don't dry anything that says it should not be put in the dryer.
- Follow all manufacturer instructions regarding the operation of the dryer and amount of clothing to put into the dryer.
- Use a metal vent pipe instead of a foil accordion pipe.
- Keep items hanging to dry away from the dryer.
It may be surprising to hear that that cotton rags (like dish towels) soaked in cooking oil can ignite when removed from the dryer and left in a pile of clothes. Always wash dish towels in heavy-duty cleaner and dry them on a line instead of in the dryer to protect your Asbury Park home.
With all the cooking and baking that takes place, it's no wonder that the kitchen is a point of origin for many household fires. Many of the fires in the kitchen occur while someone is cooking. Some fires occur because of appliance malfunction or lack of safety with children and pets. There are many things you can do and kitchen improvements you can make to reduce your risk of fire.
First and foremost, never allow food to cook unattended. Cooking oil that overheats can spontaneously combust, while food that burns to the pan can also catch on fire. Even leaving for just 1 second can be hazardous, as some fires start when homeowners leave temporarily and then become distracted and fail to return.
Here are more things you can do to prevent kitchen fires:
Be Prepared When Cooking
- Never cook while consuming alcohol.
- Never wear loose clothing while cooking.
- Do not cook if feeling woozy, tired or ill.
- Get all ingredients out of the cabinets or pantry before beginning to cook.
Prevent Grease Fires
Grease is highly flammable and can spontaneously burst into flames when it becomes too hot. You can tell when grease becomes too hot because it will start to smoke. The temperature at which oil will ignite is called the flash point. Different types of cooking oil have different flash points.
Like grease, you can tell when an oil is about to reach its flash point because it will start to smoke. If this happens, remove the oil from the heat and place it somewhere to cool. When oil becomes very hot, any food or liquid that touches the oil will cause it to bubble and splatter. When oil splatters, it can easily cause burns or tall flames.
Keep a metal or glass lid nearby any time you're cooking. Placing a lid over the oil will quickly extinguish the fire, if this can be done safely. If the fire cannot be extinguished safely, leave the kitchen and close the door behind you. Call 9-1-1 and evacuate the house immediately. A tip: regularly cleaning gas grills and ovens may help prevent grease fires.
Prevent Oven Fires
Oven fires can start when the heating elements in the oven malfunction. Oven fires can also start when something is left inside the oven to burn. To help prevent oven fires, you can:
- Always check the oven for old pans or food before turning it on.
- Clean the oven periodically to remove old food and grease.
- Inspect your oven periodically and have it repaired when needed.
Keep Children Safe When Using the Kitchen
Children can also cause household fires. You can help stop this from happening if you:
- Baby-proof your oven to prevent your toddler from turning it on.
- Keep children at least three feet away from the oven when it is in use.
- Do not allow children to play in the kitchen by themselves.
Clutter can be a big contributor to household fires. This is because during a fire, clutter becomes fuel. When firefighters arrive, clutter prevents them from accessing the worst of the fire. Proper storage of seasonal items, books and other belongings is critical.
Keep Clutter to a Minimum
Reduce clutter in the house by periodically sorting through boxes, purging what has not been used in a long time, and recycling those things that can be recycled. Hold an annual or bi-annual garage sale to keep your clutter to a minimum. Throw away or recycle hazardous waste and flammable chemicals that are no longer needed. Work with your sanitation department to ensure that any chemicals are properly disposed.
Even with regular purging habits, you may still find yourself with some clutter. Keep it off the ground and organized into modular storage bins, in cabinets and on shelves. If you ever experience a fire in the home, it will be very important to have clear pathways throughout the house.
Over 1,000 fires are started by grills each year. The majority of these fires involve gas grills, though about 10% of grilling fires are started by charcoal or another form of solid fuel.
Use Proper Grill Placement
Depending on where you live, your municipality may require that you keep your grill a certain distance from your home and flammable debris. This is especially true if you live in an urban area or in a part of the country where wildfires are a common threat. Contact your local city hall to find out the rules of your local municipality. If there are no specific rules, place your grill on a concrete surface and keep your grill 10 feet away (3 meters) from debris and structures like your home. Grills on a home's deck may also be a hazard depending on material and proximity to the house.
Follow Grilling Best Practices
- Never leave a grill unattended.
- Never use a charcoal grill in a covered area.
- Avoid using your grill in high winds.
- Keep a working garden hose nearby.
- Wet any nearby grass before lighting your grill, if it's dry.
Smoking in the United States causes about 1 in 20 household fires annually. In Canada, smoking causes about 70 fire-related deaths per year. Many of these fires start on open balconies or porches. Smoking fires are often deadly, but they can be prevented.
Control Where and How You Smoke
Avoid smoking near flammable materials like clutter and papers. For many people, this means never smoking in the garage, basement and attic. Never smoke in bed, where you are likely to fall asleep, and never smoke when working with volatile household chemicals.
When smoking, always use an ashtray to contain the ashes from your cigarettes. Avoid smoking near windows, vents and in the path of breezes.
Dispose of Smoking Byproducts Properly
Cigarette butts can remain hot for a while after they're placed in an ashtray. Wait a while before throwing away smoking ashes. When in doubt, wet the ashes before throwing them into the trash.
Never throw away cigarette butts directly after extinguishing the cigarette. You can also wet matches before throwing them into the trash.
For safe usage, fireplaces must be maintained properly. Household fires start when chimneys fall into disrepair or when fires are burned unattended. Children can also cause household fires when playing around or with burning fire in the hearth. Here's what you need to know about keeping your fireplace safe.
Maintain Your Fireplace
All fireplaces that are used to burn fires should be inspected and repaired at least once annually. Many Ocean County homes for sale feature a fireplace, so keep this in mind if you decide on buying one. Even if you only burn a fire in the fireplace one time per year, cracks in the chimney or presence of bird nests can cause fires.
Have your fireplace inspected by a chimney professional at least once annually. If the fireplace has been used in the last year, your chimney professional should also clean the chimney during that time. If you use your fireplace frequently, the chimney professional may recommend cleaning your chimney more than once per year. Follow all recommendations for cleaning and repair before using your chimney.
We spoke to Tom Hurst, the owner of Bowdens Fireside. Tom says that "all fireplaces that are used to burn fires should be inspected and repaired at least once annually and whenever purchasing a new home. Even if you only burn a fire in the fireplace one time per year, cracks in the chimney, creosote buildup, or presence of bird nests can cause fires".
Burn Seasoned Wood Only
Creosote is a byproduct of smoke. It's sticky, smelly, and also very flammable. You can keep creosote production to a minimum by burning well-seasoned wood. This is what well-seasoned wood looks like:
- Silvery or dark yellow in color
- Ends are cracked
- Logs make a hollow clunking noise when banged together
- Logs are relatively lightweight, considering their size
When seasoned wood is burned, it produces little smoke and high, hot flames. If your firewood is green (not-seasoned), it will be hard to burn, may produce steam, and will make a lot of smoke. The best way to season firewood is to place it on an outdoor firewood rack in early spring and let it dry out for 6 months ready for winter use.
Keep Children Away from the Fire
Small children should never have access to the fireplace. Teach older children to leave the fire alone. Keep younger children away from the fire with a safety gate.
Never Burn Unattended
Gas fireplaces can be turned on and off as needed, but wood-burning fires must die out on their own. Wait until the flames are extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house. You can speed the process along by separating the logs and allowing them to burn out in separate ends of the fireplace.
Allow Ashes to Cool Before Removing
Ashes must be given time to cool before they're removed from the fireplace. Wait 2 or 3 days before scooping the ashes into an ash bucket.
Like other appliances that produce heat, water heaters can be a fire hazard if they're not functioning properly. This is especially true of gas water heaters, which rely on a pilot light for ignition.
Follow Maintenance Best Practices
Inspect your water heater annually. Look for soot around the pilot light or around the area where the unit plugs into the wall. Also look for corrosion on the exterior and moisture on the ground beneath the water heater. If you smell gas around your water heater, call a repair person immediately.
The following actions can be taken to help prevent water-heater-related fires:
- Keep flammable materials away from your water heater, especially near the pilot light.
- Practice turning off the power and water to your water heater.
- Turn off the water heater before draining.
- Keep the space well-ventilated.
- Keep the water heater temperature at the manufacturer's recommended temperature.
Be Wary of Insulation Blankets
Water heater insulation blankets help water heaters maintain efficiency by trapping in heat. However, a blanket that is improperly installed could cause a fire. If you want to use a water heater blanket to reduce the appliance's energy usage, have the blanket installed by a professional.
Modern laptops contain a lithium battery. These batteries are highly reactive and can be a fire hazard when damaged.
Know the Signs Your Laptop Battery Is a Hazard
Watch for changes in the battery's shape. Bulges in the laptop's casing could be a sign that the battery inside is warped. If the battery stops holding a charge, take it to a technician and have the battery replaced. Occasionally, news stories circulate about recalls on computer batteries. Watch the news to see if your computer model is recalled.
Practice Laptop Safety
Never leave a laptop sitting on top of or near flammable items. Never sit your laptop on top of an appliance that produces heat, including heating blankets or clothes dryers. If your laptop fan stops functioning, have your laptop repaired as soon as possible.
Nine-volt batteries pose a fire risk when their positive and negative terminals are touched to a low-resistance conductor. When the terminals come into contact with steel wool, or even the terminals of another 9-volt battery, the battery short circuits, causing a fire.
To prevent fires, 9-volt batteries should be stored in their original containers until they're used. Once the batteries are finished, cover the terminals with electrical tape and take them to the recycling center.
Just like dryer lint, dust is dry and flammable. When exposed to heat and sparks, dust can cause household fires. One of the ways you can protect your home from a household fire is by dusting regularly, as this can prevent dust from circulating through your house. When dusting your home, you should:
- Move beds and furniture to dust beneath them regularly.
- Dust frequently in areas of the home where many cords have been plugged in, like the space behind your entertainment center.
- Use a vacuum hose to dust behind electrical outlet wall plates any time the plate has been removed.
You can also prevent dust from circulating through your house by occasionally cleaning your ducts. Ducts carry a lot of dust, so when they become dusty, they circulate dust every time the HVAC system turns on. How often you clean your ducts depends on how quickly they become dusty. You can cut back on the amount of dust in your HVAC system and ducts by cleaning the air filters in your HVAC system every 3 months.
Fire Escape Plan
Prepare a fire escape plan any time you move into a new house. Your plan should include instructions for your children and other members of the family, what to do about your pets, what to do after a fire, and how to protect special documents and possessions to prevent them from being consumed by the fire. Having a plan can reduce the devastation should your home ever catch fire, and can help shorten your recovery time as well.
While creating your plan, it is important to collaborate with members of your household. Gathering their input will help ensure that everyone is on board with the plan, and can also help you avoid oversights that could cost you dearly.
How to Make a Plan
A good fire escape plan starts by determining at least two possible routes to leave each room of your house, should there be a fire. In most rooms of the house, one exit route will involve a doorway, and one route will involve a window.
When determining how to leave through a doorway, find the shortest possible route to the home's exit. Identify barriers to leaving through that exit and remove them. Even doors that are not used frequently should always be operational.
When leaving through a window, identify the possible barriers that would prevent you from leaving. For example:
- Does the window open freely?
- Does the screen open freely?
- If the window and screen are opened, are you able to leave without risking a fall?
If the windows of your home have security bars, there should be an automatic release valve to ensure that the bars will open. Test the valve to ensure it's operational.
Inspect the ground beneath each window to ensure that, if you ever had to leave through it, you could do so without serious injury. Keep an escape ladder in all rooms with second-story windows. Test the ladders to ensure you know how to operate them.
Address Children and the Elderly
Very young children and the elderly may need special assistance during a household fire. Assign someone to help them, and assign someone else as a backup.
Practice Your Exit
Ideally, you and everyone in your household should practice your planned escape routes. Test your children to ensure they know what to do, where the ladders are located and how to open the windows. If a portion of your plan involves doing something slightly dangerous, like climbing out of an open second- or third-story window, practice up until the point that it's time to climb down the ladder. Make sure everyone knows how to secure the ladder to the window sill.
Have a Meeting Place
Designate a meeting area somewhere near your home. This way, when everyone is out of the home, you'll be able to find them easily and know they're safe.
Install and Test Smoke Alarms
A good fire safety plan should involve installation and testing of smoke alarms in your home. Test your smoke alarms on a monthly basis. Smoke alarms should be replaced ten years after they're manufactured. The manufacture date is printed on the back side of smoke alarms, so check the dates and replace them when the time is up.
What to Do During a Fire
During a fire, stay low to the ground and try to leave your home immediately. Put your hand on all doors before opening them. If a door is warm, there may be fire on the other side. Find another exit.
Even if the door and doorknob feels cool, open the door slowly. If you're blocked from leaving the room, leave the door closed. Place a towel or item of clothing in the crack under the door to prevent smoke from entering the room.
As you move from one room of the home to another, close doors behind you to slow the spread of the fire. Always stay low while exiting the building.
Once outside, do not go back in. Contact the local fire department and wait for assistance from professionals.
If You Catch Fire
You've heard it before: stop, drop, and roll. Stop what you're doing, drop to the ground, covering your face (if possible), and roll back and forth. Do not run while your clothes or body is on fire, this will only spread the fire faster.
What To Do After a Fire
After a house fire, you may need to be given permission from your local fire marshal before you're able to go back in your house. After orienting yourself and ensuring that you and other members of your household are safe, contact your insurance company to start the claims process. Your insurance company may pay to put you up in a hotel. Find out if this is an option, and if it is, check in at a local hotel following your insurance company's guidelines.
You may find that most of your possessions are ruined, either by the smell of smoke, the water from the hoses, or both. Work with your restoration company to repair anything worth saving.
Mold growth starts as little as 24 hours after being exposed to water. Contact a restoration company as soon as possible to stop the spread of mold throughout your house. It may take a long time for life to return to normal following a fire, and in some cases, life never goes back to the way it was.
Focus on self-care after the fire is out. In some cases, fires can lead to mental and physical health problems. Work with your primary care physician to ensure that you and other members of your household are safe.
Fire Safety for Children - What to Tell and Teach Kids
Most kids don't know what to do in the event of a fire. Some will panic and hide in the house. Others may run around looking for someone to help them.
Perhaps the most valuable thing you can teach your child in the event of a fire is this rhyme: "Don't Hide, Go Outside." Repeat this rhyme and discuss your fire escape route regularly with your child, so that he or she can recall the information when it's needed.
Other lessons to teach your child include:
- Never leave your toys near heaters or stoves.
- Tell a grownup if you find matches or a lighter.
- Never go back into a house if it's on fire.
Practice your fire escape route at least twice annually to ensure your child is able to remember exactly how to leave if a fire occurs.
Protecting Valuables and Important Documents
Valuables and important documents can be lost forever in fires, unless they're specifically protected. You can protect your documents either by keeping them onsite in a fireproof container, or by keeping them offsite.
Offsite protection, such as in a bank or safety deposit box, is often more secure than onsite protection. Often banks are protected by professionally installed fire extinguishing systems, like overhead sprinklers, to add an extra level of protection to your belongings.
However, offsite protection can be difficult or impossible to access on evenings and weekends, depending on bank hours. If you frequently need your important papers, a bank safety deposit box may not be the best option for you.
Fire safety boxes are personally owned safes designed to protect important documents from fire. These boxes are the most convenient because they're accessible from your home at any time that you need.
When purchasing a safety box, check the UL rating to ensure that paper inside will not reach temperatures higher than 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). This protects paper inside the box from spontaneous combustion. If the safety box does not specifically state that it will protect against fire to this temperature, there's a good chance it won't.
Fire safety boxes are often small and can be costly. When purchasing a box, decide in advance what papers will be going into the box. Put the papers in one location and measure the width and height of the stack. Pay close attention to the interior dimensions of the box to ensure that your papers will fit inside.
Smoke Alarms and Fire Alarms
Smoke alarms save lives. Your risk of dying in a fire is cut in half if your home has a working smoke alarm.
New homes are typically built with smoke alarms built in, but in homes without hardwired smoke alarms, it's up to the homeowner to install smoke alarms on their own. Once they're installed, they must be maintained or they won't be effective. Here's what you should know.
Installation and Locations
Every room of the house and every level of the house should have at least one smoke alarm. Some rooms of the home, like large open living areas, should have multiple smoke alarms. Hallways need smoke alarms. When installing smoke alarms on floors with staircases that lead up to other floors, install a smoke alarm at the base of the staircase.
- Keep smoke alarms at least 10 feet (3 meters) away from your stove.
- Keep smoke alarms away from windows and vents where drafts could affect the air quality around the smoke alarm.
- Wall-mounted alarms should be no more than one foot (30 centimeters) from the ceiling.
- Ceiling mounted smoke alarms should be mounted no more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) from the peak of the ceiling.
Installation of hardwired smoke alarms should be performed by a licensed electrician. Battery-operated smoke alarms can be installed by anyone with a screwdriver and hammer, but should be installed following the above specifications.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation.
- Use fresh, unused batteries.
- Test the smoke alarms after they are installed.
- Paint your smoke alarm.
- Install in humid or dusty parts of the house.
- Install in an area of the house where temperature extremes are common.
One more piece of advice: don't install your smoke alarm in an unfinished attic or in your garage. Garages are unsuitable because fumes from vehicles and temperature extremes can affect the operation of the smoke alarm.
Attics are unsuitable because of the extreme heat and cold temperatures in winter and summer. To protect these parts of the home, use a heat alarm instead.
Testing, Changing and Replacing Batteries
Test your smoke alarms on a monthly basis. To test most models, hold down the test button until the alarm sounds. When testing your smoke alarm, do this with a partner stationed on the opposite side of the house from the smoke alarm. Ask your partner to listen for the alarm. If your partner is unable to hear any of the alarms, remove any obstacles that might be blocking the sound.
Change the Batteries Twice Per Year
Even if you test your smoke alarm batteries quarterly, you should still replace the batteries every 6 months.
Often, 9-volt batteries have a charge left even after 6 months of use in a smoke alarm. If you want to save money and avoid waste, re-use the batteries in another household product, like a child's toy.
Testing Hardwired Smoke Alarms
Hardwired smoke alarms have batteries just like battery-operated smoke alarms, so they can still operate even in the event of a power outage. Test your hardwired smoke alarms just like battery-operated smoke alarms, and replace the batteries in the smoke alarm twice annually.
Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years
Smoke alarms come with a manufacturer's date. Replace your smoke alarm 10 years from the date printed on the device.
Types of Alarms
Smoke alarms come in different types to detect different types of fires, or to detect fire under different conditions.
Ionization Smoke Alarms
Ionization smoke alarms use an electrical current between two metal plates to detect smoke. Ionization smoke alarms are better at detecting fast-moving flames.
Photoelectric Smoke Alarms
These devices use a beam of light that scatters when smoke is present to detect fires. Photoelectric smoke alarms often identify smoldering fires more quickly.
Combination Smoke Alarms
Combination smoke alarms use both types of detection (ionization and photoelectric) to provide comprehensive protection to households. All fires are different, so the best way to ensure that your smoke alarms will identify a fire quickly is to install combination smoke alarms, or to install both types of smoke alarms in each location.
Fire extinguishers are an important tool for preventing major household fires. In parts of the house where fires are common, like the kitchen and in the garage wood shop, a fire extinguisher could prevent a major disaster. Here's what you need to know.
Fire Extinguisher Types
Fire extinguishers come in different types to put out different flaming materials. Each type has a corresponding letter that is used to identify it, such as:
- A: Cloth, wood, paper, cotton
- B: Combustible flammable liquids (cooking oil, paint thinner, etc)
- C: Electrical fires
- D: Flammable metals (used in factories)
- K: Flammable cooking oils (often used in commercial kitchens)
The type of fire extinguisher you keep in your house should depend on the type of material that's likely to be on fire in that location. For example, a type B fire extinguisher might be kept in the kitchen or garage, while a type A may be more appropriate for general use within the house.
To use your fire extinguisher, remember the following acronym: PASS.
- Pull the pin
- Aim low
- Squeeze the trigger
- Sweep the extinguisher from one side to another
Go over this information regularly to ensure that you know how to use it, and go over this information with family members to ensure they know how to protect themselves.
Fire extinguishers don't last forever. They have a charge that shows how much pressure is inside of the can. When the pressure runs out, the fire extinguisher will no longer work. Check your fire extinguishers monthly when you test your smoke alarms, and replace them as needed.
Accessible Fire Safety
People who are deaf or hard of hearing require special alarms to keep them safe.
Smoke alarms can be equipped with strobe lights to alert people that an alarm has been triggered. Extra bright strobes must be used in the bedroom to ensure that people will wake up when the strobe lights are activated.
Some smoke alarms are designed to send vibrations under the pillow when they go off. This helps wake people who are not responsive to bright strobe lights.
In some cases, people who are hard of hearing are not able to hear the high-pitched noises that come from standard smoke alarms. Some smoke alarms emit varying low and medium frequency sounds, so they can be heard by people who have hearing problems.
Tips for Choosing Accessible Smoke Alarms
When choosing accessible smoke alarms, it's important for the user to test the device and ensure that they can hear or will react to the device's alarm, whatever form it might take. Just like standard smoke alarms, accessible smoke alarms need to be tested periodically. Finally, look for the name of a recognized testing laboratory on the device, to ensure that the smoke alarm you choose is known to be a reliable product.
Other Fire Safety Products and Tools
In addition to fire extinguishers and smoke alarms, there are other fire safety products and tools that can be used to keep your home (and yourself) safe from fire.
Fire blankets are made from fire-resistant materials. When thrown on a fire, fire blankets cut off oxygen to the fire, extinguishing its flames. Fire blankets are marketed as a safe way to put out small, smoldering house fires before they grow large. Fire blankets can also be used to cover a person trying to escape a flaming home, and can be used to put out a fire on a person's body.
Fire sprinklers, also known as residential fire protection systems, are designed to put out residential fires where they start. Fire sprinklers are not common in homes, but some states are beginning to mandate that sprinklers are installed in new construction homes and remodels of a certain size.
Residential fire protection systems are designed to put out fires where they start, preventing their spread to other parts of the home. Some homeowners hesitate to install sprinklers in their home for fear that a misfire could cause flood damage. In reality, misfires are not common, and fire sprinklers are designed only to go off in parts of the home where the fire is actively burning, not in other parts of the house.
Fire ladders are small, portable ladders that are designed to help people escape from second story windows. Fire ladders are an essential part of a fire escape plan for anyone who has a multi-story home. The best fire escape ladders also have a harness to ensure your safety when climbing to the ground.
Fire Facts and Statistics
There are many websites available for people who need to know more about how to protect themselves from fire.
- Statistics Canada, Incident-Based Fire Statistics
- CTIF, World Fire Statistics
- Insurance Information Institute, Facts + Statistics, Fire
- US Fire Administration, US Fire Statistics
- Red Cross, Home Fire Safety
- Ready.gov, Home Fires
- Safehome.org, Residential Fire Prevention and Safety Guide
Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
House fires can be deadly if you're not prepared. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from fires. Have a plan in place to evacuate your home in the event of a house fire. Know where all of your fire protection devices (fire extinguishers, fire blankets) are located, and teach the people in your home where those devices are located as well.
Practice fire safety and response to fires with the children in your home. If you have pets, live with very young children, or live with someone elderly, work with people in your home to ensure safe evacuation.
Finally, know when to leave rescue up to the professionals. Never run into a burning house to save someone; wait for the firefighters to help. For more information about how you can protect yourself and your loved ones from fire, contact your local fire department.
Special thanks to Delbert C. Blakney, Fire Inspector over at Kingston Fire & Rescue for helping us incorporate the proper terminology.