Fire Safety Tips
Residential fires can be dangerous and destructive, but you can reduce your risk for fire-related injuries if you follow a few simple tips.
1. Install smoke alarms outside each separate sleeping area and on every floor of your home, including the basement.
We suggest using smoke alarms with lithium-powered batteries and a "hush button." A lithium-powered battery lasts up to 10 years, and a hush button allows you to quickly stop nuisance alarms that are caused by such things as steam or oven smoke.
If 10-year, long-life smoke alarms are not available, install smoke alarms that use a regular 9-volt battery, but be sure to replace the battery every year. (A useful tip to help you remember: when you change your clocks to standard time in the fall, change the battery. Or pick a fall holiday like Halloween or Thanksgiving to change the battery.)
Smoke alarms have a useful life of about 10 years. At that age the entire alarm should be replaced, even if it seems to be working.
Test smoke alarms every month to make sure they work properly. This can be done by pushing the test button. If the smoke alarm is out-of-reach, you can push the test button with a broom handle or yard stick.
2. Make a family fire escape plan and practice it every 6 months.
In a typical home fire, people have only about 2 minutes to get outside. It's easy for anyone to panic and be confused during that short time, especially children. During a fire, children often try to hide in a closet or under beds where they feel safe rather than going outside. That's why it's so important to make a fire escape plan for everyone in the family and practice it at least twice a year. However, in a national survey, only 53% of respondents said they had a plan to follow if there were a fire in their home, and of these, only 3 of 10 had ever practiced the plan.
In the plan, discuss at least two different ways to get out of every room and choose a safe place in front of the house or apartment building for family members to meet after escaping a fire. Having a meeting place will let you know that everyone has gotten out safely, and no one will get hurt looking for someone who is already safe.
Talk with your family about what to do in the event of a fire:
Get out as fast as possible and go to your family's designated meeting place.
Do not stop to grab photographs or other belongings.
Do not go back into a burning house or apartment building.
Call the fire or rescue department from a neighbor's house.
If there is smoke in the room, stay low or crawl to your exit.
If you cannot escape, put wet towels or fabric around doors to block off smoke, crawl to a window, and open it. Yell out the window for help and wave a sheet or cloth for attention. If there is a phone in the room, call for help.
3. Prevent a fire from starting in your home.
When cooking, never leave food on a stove or in an oven unattended. Avoid wearing clothes with long, loose-fitting sleeves. Do not hang pot holders and towels near burners.
If you are a smoker, do not smoke in bed, never leave burning cigarettes unattended, do not empty smoldering ashes in a trash can, and keep ashtrays away from upholstered furniture and curtains.
Keep matches and lighters away from children's reach, safely store flammable substances used around the home, and never leave burning candles unattended.
Never leave young children alone in the home, even for a short period. Unattended children can start a fire by trying to cook something or by using a heater or electrical appliance in the wrong way.
Keep space heaters at least three feet from anything that can burn, including furniture, bedding, and clothing. Do not leave space heaters on when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep.
4. Teach children to stop, drop, and roll.
Clothing fires are a major cause of burn injuries to children. Children can set their clothes on fire by playing with matches or getting too close to open fires or stoves. If this happens, children's natural reaction is to run, which will make the situation worse. Parents should teach their children the "stop, drop, and roll" manuever to smother the flames. This has saved many lives, and parents should practice the maneuver with their children. The moment clothes start to burn:
stop where you are,
drop to the ground,
and roll over and over with your hands covering your face.
Who Is Affected?
While most of us understand the importance of fire safety, we often forget just how dangerous a fire can be. In 1999, more than 2,900 people were killed and another 16,425 were injured in home fires in the United States. Older adults, children younger than five years old, and people in substandard housing or mobile homes are at the highest risk for fire-related deaths. Among children between the ages of one and nine years, fire and burn-related injuries are the third leading cause of injury death.
The most common causes of home fires are cooking and heating equipment. Heating appliances, including portable space heaters, can ignite furniture and other combustibles left too close to the heater. However, smoking is the leading cause of deaths from fires in the home and are often the result of carelessly discarded cigarettes or matches igniting furniture or mattresses. Alcohol use and fires are also a deadly mix. One study found that intoxication contributed to 40% of deaths due to home fires.
Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns. Fires produce poisonous gases that can spread quickly and far from the fire itself to claim victims who are asleep and not aware of the fire. Even if people awaken, the effects of exposure to these gases can cloud their thinking and slow their reactions so that they cannot escape. That is why it is so important for people to have early warning so they can escape before their ability to think and move is impaired.
One of the most important fire safety devices for the home is one that provides such a warning -- the smoke alarm. Studies have shown that in a fire, smoke alarms cut the chances of dying in half. As many as 93% of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, but one in four homes with smoke detectors have nonworking alarms. People with nonworking smoke alarms most often report that they disconnected or removed the battery to stop nuisance alarms, or they forgot to replace the old battery.