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Fire Safety in the Home

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are the first line of defense against deadly fire. Having a working smoke alarm in your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire nearly in half. In a fire every second is needed to get out safely. Early warning from a smoke alarm can make the difference between surviving a fire and dying in one.

Tips for installing your smoke alarms correctly

Install smoke alarms listed by a qualified testing laboratory on every level of your home, including the basement. Make sure there is an alarm in or near every sleeping area. Mount the smoke alarms high on ceilings or walls. Remember, smoke rises!

  • Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.
  • Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, outside doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
  • Don’t paint your smoke alarms; paint or other decorations could keep them from working when you most need it.

What types of smoke alarms are available?

There are many different brands of smoke alarms available on the market but they fall under two basic types: ionization and photoelectric.

  • Ionization alarms sound more quickly when a flaming, fast-moving fire occurs.
  • Photoelectric alarms are quicker at sensing smoldering, smoky fires.
  • There are also combination smoke alarms that combine ionization and photoelectric into one unit, called dual sensor smoke alarms.

Because both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting distinctly different yet potentially fatal fires, and because homeowners cannot predict what type of fire might start in a home, the USFA recommends the installation of both ionization and photoelectric or dual sensor smoke alarms.

In addition to the basic types of alarms, there are alarms made to meet the needs of people with hearing disabilities. These alarms may use strobe lights that flash and/or vibrate to assist in alerting those who are unable to hear standard smoke alarms when they sound.

Tips for keeping your smoke alarms working properly

  • Test your smoke alarms at least once a month by using the alarms’ “test button.”
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms regularly, or as soon as the alarm “chirps,” warning that the battery is low. Reminder: “Change your clocks, change your batteries!”
  • Regularly vacuuming or dusting your smoke alarm following manufacturer’ instructions can help keep it working properly.
  • Replace your smoke alarms once every 10 years.
  • Never “borrow” a battery from a smoke alarm.
  • Make sure that everyone in your home can hear and recognize the sound alarm and knows how to react immediately.

Where would I get smoke alarms?

Many hardware, home supply, or general merchandise stores carry smoke alarms. If you are unsure where to buy one in your community, call your local fire department (on a non-emergency telephone number) and they will provide you with some suggestions.

Home Hazards

Cooking Safety

Many families gather in the kitchen to spend time together, but it can be one of the most hazardous rooms in the house if you don’t practice safe cooking behaviors. Cooking equipment, most often a range or stovetop, is the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in the United States. Cooking equipment is also the leading cause of unreported fires and associated injuries.

It’s a recipe for serious injury or even death to wear loose clothing (especially hanging sleeves), walk away from a cooking pot on the stove, or leave flammable materials, such as potholders or paper towels, around the stove. Whether you are cooking the family holiday dinner or a snack for the children, practicing safe cooking behaviors will help keep you and your family safe.

Safe Cooking Behaviors

  • Choose the Right Equipment and Use It Properly
  • Always use cooking equipment tested and approved by a recognized testing facility.
  • Follow manufacturers’ instructions and code requirements when installing and operating cooking equipment.
  • Plug microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord for a cooking appliance, as it can overload the circuit and cause a fire.

Watch what you heat:

  • The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking.
  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
  • Stay alert! To prevent cooking fires, you have to be alert. You won’t be if you are sleepy, have been drinking alcohol, or have taken medicine that makes you drowsy.

Keep Things That Can Catch Fire and Heat Sources Apart

  • Keep anything that can catch fire – potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels, or curtains – away from your stovetop.
  • Keep the stovetop, burners, and oven clean.
  • Keep pets off cooking surfaces and nearby countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner.
  • Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can dangle onto stove burners and catch fire if it comes into contact with a gas flame or electric burner.

Prevent Scalds and Burns

  • To prevent spills due to overturn of appliances containing hot food or liquids, use the back burner when possible and/or turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
  • All appliance cords need to be kept coiled and away from counter edges.
  • Use oven mitts or potholders when moving hot food from ovens, microwave ovens, or stovetops.
  • Never use wet oven mitts or potholders as they can cause scald burns.
  • Replace old or worn oven mitts.
  • Treat a burn right away, putting it in cool water. Cool the burn for 3 to 5 minutes. If the burn is bigger than your fist or if you have any questions about how to treat it, seek medical attention right away.

Protect Children from Scalds and Burns

  • Young children are at high risk of being burned by hot food and liquids. Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet (1 meter) around the stove.
  • Keep young children at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from any place where hot food or drink is being prepared or carried. Keep hot foods and liquids away from table and counter edges.
  • When young children are present, use the stove’s back burners whenever possible.
  • Never hold a child while cooking, drinking, or carrying hot foods or liquids.
  • Teach children that hot things burn.
  • When children are old enough, teach them to cook safely.
  • Supervise them closely.

If Your Clothes Catch Fire

  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll.
  • Stop immediately, drop to the ground, and cover face with hands.
  • Roll over and over or back and forth to put out the fire.
  • Immediately cool the burn with cool water for 3 to 5 minutes and then seek emergency medical care.

Install and Use Microwave Ovens Safely

  • Place or install the microwave oven at a safe height, within easy reach of all users. The face of the person using the microwave oven should always be higher than the front of the microwave oven door. This is to prevent hot food or liquid from spilling onto a user’s face or body from above and to prevent the microwave oven itself from falling onto a user.
  • Never use aluminum foil or metal objects in a microwave oven. They can cause a fire and damage the oven.
  • Heat food only in containers or dishes that are safe for use in the microwave oven.
  • Open heated food containers slowly away from the face to avoid steam burns. Hot steam escaping from the container or food can cause burns.
  • Foods heat unevenly in microwave ovens. Stir and test before eating.

How and when to fight cooking fires.

  • When in doubt, just get out. When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number after you leave.
  • If you do try to fight the fire, be sure others are already getting out and you have a clear path to the exit.
  • Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby when you are cooking. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt). Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, leave the lid on until the pan is completely cool.
  • In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning you or your clothing.
  • If you have a fire in your microwave oven, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. Unplug the appliance if you can safely reach the outlet.
  • After a fire, both ovens and microwaves should be checked and/or serviced before being used again.

Other Sources of Heat

  • Give space heaters plenty of space! Space heaters should be at least three feet away from anything that could burn.
  • Always make sure to turn heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Chimneys, chimney connectors, fireplaces, and wood or coal stoves should be inspected by a professional every year and cleaned as often as necessary.
  • Lit candles should be monitored constantly by an adult and extinguished when adults leave the room or go to sleep.
  • Use candle holders that won’t tip over easily, are made of non-combustible materials and are big enough to catch dripping wax safely.
  • Never leave children alone with burning candles.
  • Candles should not be allowed in children’s bedrooms.
  • If there are smokers in your home, make sure ashtrays are large and deep and won’t tip over.
  • Douse cigarette and cigar butts with water before discarding them.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high and out of children’s sight and reach – preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Replace or repair any electrical device with a loose, frayed, or broken cord.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for plugging an appliance into a receptacle outlet. As an added precaution, avoid plugging more than one high-wattage appliance into a single receptacle.
  • In homes with small children, receptacle outlets should have plastic safety covers.
  • Liquids like gasoline, kerosene, and propane are highly flammable. Make sure to store these liquids outside the home in a properly ventilated shed or garage. Store them only in small quantities and in their original containers or in safety containers. Never bring even a small amount of gasoline indoors. The vapors are highly flammable and can be ignited by a tiny spark.

Household Fire Extinguishers

  • In the hands of an adult who knows how to use it, a portable fire extinguisher can save lives and minimize property damage by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives. But never forget that fire spreads rapidly. Your first priority should always be to get out of the house.
  • Every household should have UL Listed fire extinguishers strategically placed in rooms such as the kitchen, garage or workshop.
  • Don’t just hang your extinguisher on the wall or in the cupboard! Plan ahead, read the instruction manual and know your extinguisher’s capabilities before trying to fight a fire. Portable fire extinguishers are useful for putting out small fires but recognize your limits and the limits of the extinguisher.
  • Using the wrong type of extinguisher on a fire can actually make it spread so it’s important to plan ahead when purchasing and placing fire extinguishers.

Here are some basic rules to keep in mind when dealing with household fire extinguishers:

  • If a fire breaks out, your first step is to call the fire department and get everyone out of the house. If the fire is not spreading and is confined to a small area, use the appropriate type extinguisher for the fire. Know both your limits and the fire extinguisher’s limits.
  • Periodically inspect your extinguishers to determine if they need to be recharged or replaced. Extinguishers need to be recharged or replaced after each use — even if you haven’t used the entire extinguishing agent.
  • When using a portable extinguisher, keep your back to an unobstructed exit that is free from fire.
  • Check the manufacturer’s instructions for operating guidelines, including proper distance between the extinguisher and fire. Always aim at the base of the fire.

Extinguisher rating & intended use

  • Type A – For use on fires involving combustible materials such as wood, cloth and paper.
  • Type B – For use on flammable liquid fires, including kitchen grease. Never use water on this type of fire!
  • Type C – For use in fires involving energized electrical equipment.
  • Type ABC – Works on all three types of fires listed above.

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