A house fire, while most assume such a devastating event must be reserved for movies or the occasional cautionary tale, in reality, a fire in your home is only one small mistake away. A forgotten hair straightener or a spilled glass of water are all it could take to turn an ordinary day into a nightmare. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent a fire from happening to your family and ways to keep them safe if tragedy does occur.
Prevention Comes First
The most effective way to keep your house safe from a fire, is to know the best ways to prevent one all-together. Many of the things you do already might be keeping you safer, while some might be putting you at risk. 5 simple steps can help you take action in preventing a house fire.
Awareness, Awareness, Awareness
Distraction is the enemy of safety. A phone call while cooking might cause you to miss the pot overflowing on the stove or a glass of wine while grilling might lead to the overuse of gasoline. Common occurrences can be the easiest distractors. A few things to make sure you stay aware of:
- Flammable items near open flames (candles, grills, gas stoves, etc.) or cooking appliances. Easily flammable items such as paper towels, wooden decor, kitchen towels, or plastic should be kept a safe distance away from flames and cooking, as they can quickly lead to fire spreading.
- Heated appliances, like coffee pots, space heaters, or hair straighteners. We have all accidently left of an appliances after use. While most are programmed to turn themselves off after a specific time period, some left off too long can cause an issue.
- Children: Kids can easily run without looking or reach out to something hot. When you know a heated appliance or cooking it taking place, make sure you keep tabs on where your kids are playing.
Knowledge is Power – Keeping Prepared
Knowing proper fire hazards and safety information is vital. Heated appliances or flame use can be perfectly safe if such items are used properly. Here are a few things you should make sure your family is aware of:
- Fire Hazards: There are many things in a home that can lead to a fire. While most are aware of the obvious culprits, stoves and grills, there are many less assuming ways a flame can begin.
- Candles: Everyone loves a good holiday scent at Christmas or the smell of fresh linen in the summer, but unattended candles lead to around 40% of house fires. Since the flame is small, candles are easy to forget about. A flammable item near the flame or wax that melts down as the candle burns towards the holder can lead to the fire taking root somewhere other than the wick.
- Fireplaces: While fireplaces might seem like the safest place to burn a fire, flames can easily get out of control. One rogue spark onto a blanket or a fallen log can ignite a flame outside the hearth. Much like candles, fireplaces can seem like a harmless flame, making them easily forgotten about.
- Space Heaters: Most of the time, space heaters are engineered to be safe, even when they are hot. The issue arises when things get into the space heaters personal space. Socks, paper, or a blanket left too close to the heated portion of a space heater can cause the items in contact to ignite.
- Frayed or Faulty Wiring: Wires that are old or installed incorrectly are prone to spark. If the spark lands on a flammable item, it could ignite.
- Hair Appliances: As previously mentioned, a straightener or curling iron left on can overheat the surface under it, or ignite a nearby item.
- Characteristics of a Fire: Knowing how a fire opporates can help in understanding how best to prevent one.
- Speed: Fires can grow extremely quickly. One flames can multiply in seconds, causing an entire room to ignite. It could take only minutes for an entire house to be engulfed.
- Heat: The heat from a house is not like the heat from your fireplace. This heat is not controlled and it is not concentrated to one place. Flames in a house fire can reach up to 600 degrees F and they could be surrounding you from all sides.
- Smoke: Smoke is not caused by the flames themselves, it is caused by the things being burned up in the fire. In a house fire, much more is burning than just logs. This causes thick, black smoke to billow and rise to fill a room quickly.
- Potential Injuries: Some injuries are common, while some might come as a surprise. Being prepared to deal with any harm that may come to a family member should a fire occur can make all the difference.
- Burns: The most common injury from a fire is a burn. While it can come from the actual flame, many burns also come from touching objects heated up to an unusual temperature from the fire. Doorknobs and charred flooring are some examples that can easily lead to a burn. Having burn medication and supplies on hand and learning about burn treatment can make you better prepared to handle a situation should a fire occur.
- Smoke Inhalation: While the fire is hot, the smoke is extremely hot, too. Breathing in too much smoke can cause burns in the throat and nasal passages.
- Suffocation: When harmful smoke is taken into the lungs in excess, it can cause the respiratory passageways to swell. This swelling, combined with potential burns, can result in a lack of proper oxygen intake.
Electric safety can be one of the most important measures of prevention to take. Here are some easy ways to nip the electric hazard in the bud before it becomes a risk:
- Check home wiring and breaker: As unfortunate as it is, many homes had found to have been wired for electricity in an unsafe way. Contractors use shortcuts and cost savers when wiring or renovating homes, leaving some wires and connection susceptible to spark and ignite. An inspection of your home might cost some, but it could save you from disaster.
- What Watt is your Lightbulb?: Something as small as an incompatible light bulb could be a safety hazard. Check the wattage required for you lighting, and make sure you buy light bulbs accordingly.
- Pets: We may love our furry friends, but our furry friends tend to love wires. A chew or two is all it could take to fray or break a wire, causing dangerous sparks and electric flow. Keeping wires off the floor and making sure they have adequate protective covering should keep your four-legged loved one at bay.
Rally the Troops
Like any other emergency situation, it’s better to plan ahead. If a fire does occur, many injuries or deaths are caused by the victims freezing up or panicking during the emergency. Come up with a fire safety plan with your family, so everyone will know what to do, what not to do, and where to go if I fire should happen.
- Decide on a code word or signal that will alert the family a fire is occuring. There often will not be time to find each family member in the house and alert them of the situation separately. With a signal, each member can engage in the fire safety plan as quickly as possible.
- Identify possible escape routes from each part of the house. You never know exactly where you will be when an emergency happens. Everyone should be able to find a safe way out of the house from any room.
- Go over possible hazards and rules when executing the plan.
- Feel the wood of a door to determine heat before touching a doorknob, crawl on your hands a knees to avoid the rising smoke, move quickly but safely, etc.
- Designate a meeting place. Find somewhere to gather once safely out of the house. This will bring everyone together and alert the family and first responders if anyone is missing.
In addition to your personal efforts towards fire safety, there are a few ways your house can help keep your family safe as well.
- Install a fire alarm: Most homes are built with smoke detectors and fire alarms, but if yours is not, look into installing these products. Smoke detectors might be able to alert you of a fire, or fire hazard, before you are aware of it. This could lead to either preventing the development of a fire, or being able to alert the family of a fire with ample time to escape to safety. Fire alarms can go one more step, and alert the fire department and first responders of an emergency the moment it is detected.
- Fire resistant materials: There are many building materials and fabrics that are resistant to flame. These materials will produce less smoke when on fire, and will slow the growth and movement of a fire. These materials could give you valuable time to get you and your family to safety, as well as potentially safe adjacent rooms and belongings.
In Case of Emergency
Sometimes prevention and all our best intentions can’t hold off a house fire. Accidents and emergencies happen, and it is equally as important to know how to handle the case of a fire safely. To help keep your family safe if a fire does happen, follow these 4 steps to fire safety.
Following Directions During The Fire Breakout
Alright, a fire has broken out in your home. Now it’s time to employ that fire safety plan you have prepared in your prevention efforts. The biggest challenge with this step will be sticking to the plan you created. When your family might be in danger, it can be tempting to try to save each member yourself. While you may need to directly pursue babies, toddlers, or small children who cannot follow the plan on their own, it is safer for you and your family if you follow the plan in place and let the fire department and first responders do their job. Do not:
- Try to go back into the house after you have gotten out safely. First responders will be able to better help anyone still inside and you might hinder their ability to help.
- Try to grab belongings on your way out of the house. Escape through a safe route as quickly as you can and leave behind anything non-essential.
- Contrary to the last point, if there are essentials within reach, such as inhalers or medications, gather them if possible as quickly as you can, then get out of the house. If these essentials are not within direct reach, leave them behind and notify a first responder of your needs.
- Try to save a pet. While it may be difficult to imagine leaving them behind, do not try to find and take a pet out with you. The effort of escaping with a pet might hinder you to an unsafe level. Much like any family members unable to escape, first responders will do their best to rescue any pets still inside the house.
In the unlikely event you find yourself trapped inside your home and unable to safely escape, there are steps you can take to aid in your rescue.
- Remain Calm: Panicking leads to misjudgment. Misjudgement could lead to injury. Try to remember the safety steps and execute.
- Prepare your Room: If you cannot get out, try to take the room you are in as safe as possible.
- Close all doors and place sheets and clothes by door cracks to prevent smoke from coming in.
- Get to the floor and move to the side of the room farthest from the source of the fire.
- Open any windows to allow fresh air to come in, and smoke to get out.
- Make your Location Known: Firefighters will be doing their best to locate you and get you safely out of the house. Do your best to help guide them to your location,
- Turn on all the lights in the room. This will make you visible from outside and bring attention to the room you are in.
- Shout from the open windows. This will alert people that you need help and will help responders locate you.
- Don’t Jump: It may be tempting to jump from a window if there is one, but, until you have no other options, do not jump from a window. You will mostly likely only accomplish in injuring yourself. This will make the first responders jobs more difficult and remove your ability to help at all after you are safely out of the house.
- If you get to a situation where you absolutely must jump from a window, be extremely careful. Throw out any padding you can find to break your fall and lower yourself as closely to the ground as possible. Do not lock out your knees or try to land on your feet. When you get to the ground, let your body collapse and fall to the ground. This will lessen the chance of any broken bones. Alert first responders when you have escaped.
Treatment is Paramount
As we have talked about, injuries are a very real possibility in the case of a fire. If you sustain and injury, the best thing you can do is get it treated by a first responder as soon as possible. Any wounds left open or untreated are susceptible to infection from the environment or further injury.
If a paramedic is not available, or you cannot escape due to an injury, do anything you can to treat the immediate injury while waiting for help. Cover a burn or cut. Do not attempt to walk on or use a broken bone. If you are experiencing smoke related difficulties, get as low to the floor as possible and search for any windows.
Now that we know some basic fire safety skills and procedures, we need to address unexpected fire hazard situations. Not all instances of a fire emergency will occur at home. There may be other times when you need to be able to protect your family from an emergency.
- Car Accidents: Many car accidents or malfunctions result in the overheating of the car. This can often lead to the car catching on fire. For this type of emergency, many procedures will be similar to a fire in the home.
- You will still need a predetermined plan for your family in the case of a car fire.
- Call 911 as quickly as possible
- Get far away from the car as fire may lead to an explosion.
- Holidays: A holiday might seem like the last time you want to worry about fire safety, but it can often be one of the most important times. In the excitement of holidays, normal precautions might be forgotten or neglected.
- Christmas: Candles and fireplaces are common staples of the Christmas holiday. S’mores are roasted and cinnamon spice scents fill the air. While this is a joyous time, it can also be dangerous. Make sure you stay aware of any flames while celebrating.
- 4th of July/New Years Eve: Both of these holidays are known for one major thing: Fireworks. Fireworks can be fun and exciting if done with care and precaution, but there is always room for safety measures. Make sure everyone stands a safe distance away from the launch site. Do not shoot off more than one firework at a time. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and be prepared to call for help if a fire occurs.
A fire is a terrifying and tragic event for a family. By taking a few simple steps, you can help better protect your family and prepare them to react safely to an emergency. We have collated a list of weblinks for your further reading below.[Insert up to 10 helpful links here]