According to the National Fire Protection Association, between the years of 2012 – 2016 (the most recently measured 5-year time period), fire departments in the United States responded to an estimated 355,400 house fires. Over 2,500 individuals lost their lives as part of these fires, and there was an estimated $6.5 billion in property damage. This means that every year, one of our every 326 homes experiences a fire, and seven people die in house fires each day. Those are staggering statistics, and all the reason why it is essential that homeowners take the proper precautions to prevent fires.
The number one cause of house fires in the United States is cooking mishaps. And in most cases, unattended cooking is the culprit. Candles also cause a significant number of fires, namely on three holidays – New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. Circuit interrupters, heating fires, and smoking materials such as cigars and cigarettes also cause a remarkable number of fires each year. In fact, smoking materials are the leading cause of fire-related deaths in the United States.
No homeowner ever wants to experience a fire, or suffer the consequences of one. As such, there are a variety of steps that homeowners can take to lessen their risks, if not prevent fires in their homes altogether.
How to prevent fires in the home
Awareness and diligence is the ultimate strategy in protecting your home and loved ones from a fire and you can prevent fires by minimizing things around the household that can spark a fire. By keeping your home in proper order, cleaning regularly, and not smoking in the house, you can make a remarkable difference. Homeowners can benefit from following these specific suggestions as well:
- Maintain and regularly test your smoke alarms. Select a date each year in which to replace the batteries in your smoke detector. Perhaps it could be the anniversary of the date you moved into the home or the birth date of the oldest person in the home. Whatever the date is, select the date and mark the date on your yearly calendar so that you do not forget to change the batteries. In addition, be sure to test the batteries once per month. If the detector does not work at your monthly check, replace the batteries and retest. If the unit still does not work, be sure to replace the entire smoke detector.
- Inspect your heating sources. Regardless of the heating system that you use in your home, it is important to check systems annually. Also, be sure to clean replace your furnace filters regularly and vacuum dust accumulation near radiators and other heating sources. If you use a space heater in your home, be sure also to inspect those regularly and keep them three feet away from any combustible materials.
- Keep your stovetop and oven clean and clear. Do not leave anything flammable near your oven or on your stovetop. Many homeowners are tempted to leave items on the top of their electric stovetops, but this can result in a serious hazard in the event that a burner is inadvertently turned on and left unattended. Make sure that dish towels and other kitchen items, including wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, etc., are all stored at a reasonable distance from your stovetop and oven.
- Never leave the kitchen when you are cooking. Even if you are leaving something in the oven such as the turkey on Thanksgiving and you want to run to the 24/365 gym for a quick workout while the bird is cooking, be sure to reconsider. Whether it is a pot simmering on top of the stove, something in the oven, or an electric griddle warming up so that you can make pancakes for breakfast, do not leave the kitchen. If you have to leave the room for any reason and no one else is available to tend to the cooking, be sure to turn everything off before you leave. Remember, cooking fires are the leading cause of house fires so this point can’t be stressed enough.
- Inspect your gas dryer once per year. Have your gas dryer and all connections checked at least once per year. Many plumbing contractors offer this service as part of their annual service and maintenance plan, and so if you are not having this done, be sure to start. Also, regardless of whether you have a gas or electric dryer, ensure that the lint trap is cleaned out after every load of laundry as that is another way to prevent fires.
- Maintain and inspect electrical cords. If your electrical cord is showing any of the following signs of wear and tear, it is time for a replacement.
- Cord is too loose – If the cord is no longer securely attached to the plug, this is an indicating that the cord needs to be replaced.
- Cord is too short – If you find that you are attaching multiple cords to one another to reach the desired outlet, this means that you need a longer cord. Multiple connection points can result in hot spots and risk a safety hazard due to potential overheating.
- Cord is hot to the touch – This means the cord may be over-capacity. If this is the case, disconnect the cord and invest in a new one that is better suited to meet the load.
- Do not use indoor cords outdoors – Indoor cords are not properly insulated for use outdoors.
- Cord has cracked insulation – If the card shows any cracks, nicks, frays, or cuts or the protective coating shows damage, discontinue use and discard the cord.
- Cord does not have a safety certification – All extension cords, when purchased, should contain a UL certification sticker or other such markings. If your cord does not contain this marking, stop use immediately and discard.
- Do not run your cords under the carpet or through windows – Cords wear out from physical abuse and foot traffic on top of the cord will increase wear and tear. Further, if you are unable to see the cord because it is underneath the carpeting or an area rug, you will not be able to see if it is damaged.
- Never staple or nail a cord to the wall – You can find electrical cord clips at your local hardware store which wrap around the cord and have holes on either side for the nail to go through and safely make contact with the wall.
- Store flammable products properly – Everyday household cleaners, cosmetics, and even shaving cream are all highly flammable. Hair spray is exceptionally flammable. Be sure to keep these items at a safe distance from heating sources. When your curling or flat iron is plugged into the bathroom outlet, ensure that your hairspray is kept at a safe distance away. Store hairspray and cosmetic products in a cool and dark cupboard, such as under the sink or in the bathroom linen closet. Identify a safe place for all cleaning products as well, and ensure your family understands the importance of returning items to their proper storage spaces because developing patterns for proper safety can help prevent fires.
Teach children the importance of fire safety
Many fire accidents happen because of curious and unsupervised children. If you have young children in the home, be sure to store candles out of reach. Additionally, have regular family discussions about fire safety so that your family knows the best way to prevent fires. In the least, be sure to teach your children the following key points so that they know what to do in case of a fire.
- Show your child how to call 911 on the telephone, whether it be a landline or your smartphone. As more and more homes are forgoing the use of landlines, it is important that your child knows how to access a smartphone and dial an emergency number in case of a fire. NOTE: If you are reading this and live outside of the United States, make sure that your children know the proper number to call in your country. Many children in other countries are frequently exposed to American television programs and books and may not realize that 911 will not work for them.
- Teach your children where they should go in the event of a fire. When children are frightened, their normal inclination is to hide. Make sure that they know that hiding during a fire is extremely dangerous. Identify a neighbor’s house or other meeting location that all family members should head towards when they hear the smoke alarm go off. Practice this activity periodically as part of your family’s fire prevention plan.
- Make sure your children understand that any of their favorite toys and clothing items can be replaced and that they cannot. Children need to be firmly educated that going back into the home is not an option, even if it means they want to go back to get their hamster or other furry companions. As part of your family’s fire prevention plan, make sure that an adult is assigned pet duties, and only goes after pets when possible. Adults too should never go back into a burning building after a pet. Firefighters at the scene can be informed that there is a pet (or another person) in the home and can use their training to try to rescue that person or animal.
- Don’t forget to stop, drop, and roll. Teach your child that if they were to catch fire, that they should stop immediately, drop, and roll to put the fire out. Have them practice this technique, using their hands to cover their eyes, nose, and mouth during the process. Also, teach your children that smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death during a house fire. Educate them that smoke rises, and thus they should stay as low as possible when escaping the burning house.
In addition to teaching these basic skills and rules, make sure your children know what to do if they come into contact with lighters or matches during their play. Make sure children know that they should give those items to an adult and that they should never try to use those items on their own. Finally, teach children that they should never store their stuffed animals or toys near a heat source such as a radiator, fireplace, or portable heater. At the end of the day, one of the best ways to prevent fires at home is by educating the very young people that live in these homes.
Suggested fire safety items for your home
Being suitably prepared in the event of fire begins with ensuring your home is properly equipped. Your house should be appropriated with fire equipment in case an emergency transpires. Further, parents and all family members will rest better at night knowing that their home is properly protected and that family members know what to do if a fire breaks out. The most important fire safety items for your house include a fire escape ladder (one for each floor above the ground floor, at the appropriate length to reach the ground), smoke detectors, a fire extinguisher (on each level of the home), and carbon monoxide detectors.
While fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors are relatively easy to find, purchase, and install, fire escape ladders can be a bit more complicated to select. This 2011 article from Consumer Reports indicates that there are two primary types of residential fire escape ladders – portable and permanent. The article suggests that you should have an escape ladder in each room that is not on the ground or basement level. The important thing to remember when purchasing a ladder is the length. A ladder that is too long is not of concern, but a ladder that is too short, especially for a third story window, can result in extreme injury since it will not reach the ground.
As part of your family’s fire prevention plan, practice using the fire extinguisher and an escape ladder if it is possible to use without breaking the window. Have an adult wait at the bottom of the ladder to aid children on their way down. If it is not possible to actually go through the escape process, in the least you should ensure all family members know where portable ladders are stored, and how to affix them to the window frame. Ensure family members also know how to open a window (test windows regularly to ensure they have not warped and jammed with age) or break it safely in the event of a fire.
Taking time to review these steps as well as to create a fire prevention plan will greatly increase your family’s chances of survival in the event of a fire.
If your home has been damaged by a fire and you need help handling the hassle of navigating and negotiating with your insurance company, consider reaching out to Bulldog Adjusters! We’ll help you get the biggest possible settlement from your home insurance company!