Fire Prevention and Safety Tips That Can Save Your Life

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October marks the anniversary of one of most famous fires in American history. The Great Chicago Fire began October 8, 1871 and ended the next day. While fact and fiction are mixed regarding the origin, there’s no dispute about the devastation – it killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, October is still the

October marks the anniversary of one of most famous fires in American history. The Great Chicago Fire began October 8, 1871 and ended the next day. While fact and fiction are mixed regarding the origin, there’s no dispute about the devastation – it killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, October is still the start of the "fire season" and a perfect time for a whole home fire safety check. As heating systems are activated and fireplaces are used, the risk of having a fire increases.

Each year there are nearly 390,000 reported home fires in the U.S. resulting in death, injury and property damage. Cooking is the #1 cause of fire and fire injuries. Common problems leading to fires include failing to clean heating appliances, placing combustibles too close to heating sources, flaws in construction or design and improper fuel use, like when substituting gasoline for kerosene in a space heater, a foolish and very dangerous practice.

The key to preventing home fires and injuries comes down to planning, prevention and practice. Here is where to begin.

  • MAKE A PLAN – Draw a floor plan of your home. Meet with everyone who lives in your home and talk about how you might get out if the fire was in different places. “Move” the fire around and plan alternate escape routes on the paper.

  • MENTAL PREPARATION – Live and visualize the fire from every room in your home. Go to each room, close your eyes and find the exit, then find a second one in case the first is not available.

  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – Imagine what you would feel along the escape routes to determine if you were going the right direction to get out during a fire and couldn’t see. Smoke is deadly – and it not only makes it difficult to breathe but to see.

  • IN CASE OF EMERGENCY – Remind everyone in the family that in case of fire, DO NOT stay in the house, get out of the house and call 9-1-1 from a neighbor’s home. Be sure that younger children know what to do in an emergency.

    Remember it’s critical to stay low when escaping a fire. Standing up can be deadly as heat and toxic gasses fill a burning room from the top down. It’s also good habit to sleep with bedroom doors closed. This slows or prevents the spread of a fire as well as toxic gasses and smoke.

    Smoke detectors are a must

    The NFPA reports that roughly 70 percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes without smoke alarms or working smoke alarms. Since one-quarter of all fires start during typical sleeping hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and more than one-half of all fire related deaths occur during this periods, a working smoking detector might be the only thing that averts tragedy.

    Smoke detectors do wear out. If the ones you have are more than five years old, it might be time for a new one. Newer models also have updated features that you may want to consider, such as photoelectric sensors that are more sensitive to slow, smoldering fires. For about $35, dual sensor detectors are also available that combine the older ionic sensors which “see” fire with photoelectric sensors for greatest protection

    Another convenient feature for kitchen areas is a reset or “silencer” button. This allows you to shut down the detector for approximately 10 minutes during a nuisance alarm, like burned toast, then goes back to full alert. Resetting your detector is a much better idea than removing the battery, which you may then forget to replace.

    Hardwired detectors, those wired directly to the home’s electrical system, can also wear out and need to be regularly checked. Check that the red light status light is flashing at regular intervals and use the “test” button to make sure the unit is still working.

    As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Preparing, planning, and practicing for fires ahead of time can mean the difference between serious injury or death, and surviving one of life’s most common tragedies.

    Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s website at www.moneypit.com.

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