Fire Prevention Week runs from October 5-11 this year, and focuses on preventing fires in the home. Although our residences are the place where we often feel most secure, more fire deaths occur at home than elsewhere, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). This year, the campaign has a special focus on alternate methods of heating because of current economic troubles and the high cost of heating fuel.
Preventing Home Fires
A good way to prevent a fire is to check your house or apartment for potential problems, and correct them. Some common trouble areas for cold weather include fireplace chimneys that have not been cleaned, furnaces that have not been serviced, and dryer vent hoses and lint traps that have not been cleaned and inspected regularly. Chimneys and furnace flues can become clogged during the spring and summer, introducing a fire and carbon monoxide hazard when they are first used in the fall.
Another important heating-related fire risk involves storing oil, rags, or other flammables on or near furnaces, wood-burning stoves, or portable heaters. Many people store flammables near idle heating devices during the spring and summer, forgetting that they are there when it comes time to use those devices in the fall.
Electrical fires are especially dangerous because they can burn inside the walls (invisible until it's too late) and can also present a shock hazard. To help prevent electrical problems, make sure fuses or circuits are not overloaded, and that arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) or ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are used where needed. Don't use extension cords as a permanent solution, and don't overload power strips. In addition, make sure light bulbs are not touching anything flammable, such as lamp shades, curtains, or the wall.
Practice Fire Safety
Once you finish inspecting your house, make sure to practice safety when it comes to preventing fires. The NFPA reports that cooking fires are the leading cause of fires in the home. Many of these incidents are caused by leaving the stove unattended while cooking. A fire can spread alarmingly quickly, even if you're only gone for a few moments. If you have to leave the kitchen, turn off the stove. In addition, never attempt to heat your home with your oven or stove.
Fires related to smoking can also be reduced if safety becomes a focus. Make sure to keep matches and lighters away from children, and make sure to smoke outside or away from flammable materials like beds, curtains, and sofas.
Alternate Heating Warnings
With many people looking for alternate ways to heat their homes, fire safety becomes especially important this fall and winter. If you're using a portable heater, make sure it's at least 3 feet from anything flammable, such as clothing, drapes, furniture, and walls. Never leave a portable heater unattended or near children or pets, and make sure to turn it off before you go to sleep. If you're using a fireplace or wood burning stove for warmth, besides having it cleaned and serviced at least yearly, never leave anything flammable near its opening, and never leave it unattended. Ashes that look cool can remain hot for hours, so make sure to fully extinguish the fire before going to sleep.
Protecting Yourself if a Fire Starts
Despite your best efforts, a fire may start. It could be the result of an accident, someone else's carelessness, or a natural disaster. In this case, fire detection and suppression equipment and an escape plan are your safety net.
Smoke Detectors Save Lives
It may seem obvious and elementary, but working and properly-installed smoke detectors save lives. Most people know this, but investigations after fires often reveal a lack of working smoke detectors. If you don't have smoke detectors, you should get them. Install one per level of your house and one in each sleeping area. Do not remove the batteries for any reason, and make sure to change them once a year. If you hear intermittent beeping when there is no smoke, that means that either the batteries or the entire smoke detector need to be replaced. If the smoke detector keeps activating due to cooking or other nuisance smoke, either move it farther from the kitchen or get a model that can be temporarily silenced with a button.
Other Lifesaving Equipment
Simple things like fire extinguishers and automatic fire suppression canisters that can be placed over the stove can minimize damage and injury. Although fire extinguishers can be helpful for containing a small fire, always make exiting the building your first priority. If you're building or remodeling a house, consider adding fire sprinklers. The NFPA says that the combination of smoke detectors and automatic fire sprinklers can reduce the risk of death in a home fire by over 80%. Remember that even with the right equipment, a well-practiced escape plan is still your best protection.
Earning Homeowners Insurance Discounts
Installing fire safety devices such as smoke detectors, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers can have another benefit as well. Many homeowners insurance companies offer significant discounts on your insurance if you have these devices installed. For example, companies like Nationwide Insurance, Travelers Insurance, and Liberty Mutual Insurance offer potential discounts of up to 15% in many areas. To find out which discounts you qualify for, get multiple homeowners insurance quotes.
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