Each year, roughly 3,400 people are killed in house fires, making fire the third most common cause of accidental deaths at home. However, many house fires are easily preventable as long as you are adequately prepared for the danger.
By now you know that having a fire extinguisher on hand in the kitchen and making sure you have functional fire alarms on every level of your home are critical for protecting your biggest investment. In addition to keeping those smoke detector batteries charged, there’s still more you can do to lower the risk of a fire breaking out in your home. Try these tips to make sure you have a fire plan in place and that you know just what to do to keep a house fire from spreading in your home.
An Ounce of Prevention
There are all sorts of things you can do to reduce the chance of a fire even getting started in your home. Make sure to enact each of these commonsense fire prevention tips in your daily life:
- Unplug Unused Appliances: Reduce your risk for an electrical short or a surge due to a lighting strike by keeping unused appliances unplugged. This is especially important for items like space heaters, hot plates, coffee makers and curling irons, which can start a fire if their heating elements come into contact with something flammable. Get in the habit of unplugging them when you’re done using them.
- Keep Your Chimneys Clean: Creosote can build up in your fireplace chimney over time, and it’s highly flammable. One spark can start a chimney fire that will spread to the rest of your house. Have your chimney professionally cleaned annually to reduce this risk.
- Service Your Furnace Annually: Your fireplace isn’t the only thing with a chimney in your house. The ductwork, exhaust pipes and chimneys connected to your furnace also need regular cleaning to clear them of flammable debris. A well-tuned furnace is much less likely to cause a fire.
- Keep Your Dryer Vent Clear: Empty your dryer’s lint trap every time you use it, and have the vent cleaned when you have your furnace and ductwork serviced. Many HVAC contractors will do this for low or no additional cost if you just ask.
- Beware of Open Flame: Whether you love a candlelit dinner, a roaring fire or a seasonal jack-o’-lantern, never leave an open flame — no matter how small! — unattended. You can also consider alternatives for a festive ambience, such as strings of electric lights or a glow stick for those Halloween pumpkins.
- Avoid Cooking While Distracted: Though it can be tempting to leave the kitchen to take care of something else while you’re cooking, kitchen fires are a major cause of fire damage to homes. Keep your eye squarely on your pots and pans while cooking to avoid this most preventable cause of house fires.
- Keep Your Gutters Clean: Dry leaves stuck in your gutters are easily ignited by a stray spark from your grill. Be sure to clean these out each fall and spring to minimize this risk.
By following these tips and creating some smart new habits, you can stop many of the common causes of house fires before they ever have a chance to get started.
Preparing for the Worst
What if, despite your best efforts, a fire does start in your home? It pays to have a plan in place to make sure everyone in your family knows what to do in case of fire. Here’s how to make sure your loved ones are ready.
Create Your Evacuation Plan
Talking to young children about a house fire may feel scary, but you can empower them by showing them exactly what to do if it should ever happen. Teach your children that if they ever hear the smoke alarms, smell smoke or see fire that they should immediately leave via the nearest exit. However, before opening any doors, it’s important to teach your children that they should first feel the door, the cracks and the knob to see if it’s hot. If so, caution your child not to open the door, but rather find another means of egress, such as a window or an escape ladder. If the door feels cool, let your child know that they should open it very slowly to assess the situation and identify whether or not exiting safely is an option.
Lastly, You should make sure everyone knows what the closest exit is for any given room of your home, and you should have a designated meeting spot outside — preferably a neighbor’s house or other highly visible area away from your property.
Once you’ve got the foundations of your evacuation plan in place, practice it! Your kids have fire drills in school to make sure everyone knows what to do, and a little rehearsal now could make all the difference later when there’s no time to panic or wonder what to do. Since smoke rises, you might want to have everyone practice getting on their bellies and crawling towards a safe exit, too. Remind them that their only responsibility is to get out quickly.
Fire Safety and Pets
If you are concerned about your pets, consider keeping a carrier, crate or leash at your home’s exit so you’ll be able to scoop them up quickly as you evacuate. Animals have a natural aversion to fire and may run away on their own, so making sure your animals have a collar with ID tags and/or a microchip (especially important for cats who slip their collars regularly) will help you track them down in the aftermath of a fire in your home.
Fire Safety Supplies
To make your home as safe as possible, here’s what you need to have on hand to prevent or fight house fires:
- Smoke Detectors: This is the single most important fire prevention item in your arsenal. If possible, invest in hardwired fire alarms that can directly alert your local fire department to problems in your home. If these aren’t feasible, be sure to add a battery-operated smoke detector to each level of your home and to change the batteries twice a year — doing so when you change the clocks each spring and fall is a good way to stay on top of this all-important task.
- Fire Extinguishers: Keeping a small fire extinguisher in the kitchen and in accessible locations on each level of your home can help you stop a small fire in its tracks. Before you decide to use it, be sure that you have a clear escape route and that the rest of your family is out of harm’s way. You’ll also need to read the directions and practice using your extinguisher when you purchase it, not in the heat of the moment.
By taking the time to follow these fire safety basics, you can protect your home and your family from a terrible disaster. It’s well worth the effort to develop and practice your evacuation plan and to start forming new habits to minimize your risk of fire.