Fire Safety Measures

Fires are the leading causes of home injury and death. Consider:

  • Approximately one-half of home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms.
  • Most residential fires occur during the winter months.
  • Alcohol use contributes to an estimated 40% of residential fires.
  • Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns.
  • Cooking is the primary cause of home fires.
  • Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths.

Here's another fact: Despite a fire alarm's piercing sound, children, teenagers -- even some adults -- can sleep through it. For this reason, it's important to teach everyone in your home how to escape a late-night fire.

This checklist can help you spot fire hazards in your home. It will also help you prepare your family to quickly escape a fire:

Smoke Detectors

  • Put smoke alarms/detectors in strategic locations in your home, such as the kitchen, near bedrooms, and near fireplaces or stoves. Install at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home, including the basement.
  • Replace batteries in smoke detectors once a year. Check your alarm twice a year. A good way to remember: when daylight saving and standard time change each spring and fall.
  • For people with hearing impairments, special smoke alarms with strobes and/or vibration are available. You can buy these online and through local fire equipment distributors.
  • Install new smoke alarms when they are 10 years old or older (sooner if one is damaged or not working).

Fire Prevention Strategy

  • Keep a fire extinguisher near the kitchen and have it checked yearly. Learn how to use it. Put out food or grease fires in a pan with a lid or another pot.
  • Teach children safety rules for matches, fires, electrical outlets, electrical cords, stoves, and chemicals. Keep matches and flames, such as candles or lanterns, out of the reach of children.
  • Buy children's sleepwear made of flame-retardant fabric. Dress children in flame- and fire-retardant clothing. Older adults need to be careful about wearing clothing with loose material that could catch on fire.

Family Fire Drills

  • Know the emergency number for your fire department; 9-1-1 is in place in most communities, but not all. Remember to get out first if there is a fire, then call for help once safely outside.
  • Teach children who are old enough to understand to stop, drop, and roll if their clothing catches on fire so they can help put out the flames and avoid serious burns.
  • Let children help plan a fire escape route. Choose a meeting place outside the home where everyone will gather, and be sure they know never to go back inside a burning building.
  • Teach children to always keep stairways and exits clear of furniture, toys, and other obstructions that could slow your escape.
  • Practice using your escape route in family fire drills at least twice a year. Make sure babysitters know the route, too.
  • Practice what it would be like to escape through smoke by getting down on hands and knees and crawling below the smoke to the nearest exit. Cooler air will be near the floor.
  • Once kids have mastered the plan, hold a drill while everyone is sleeping. This will let you know if they will wake up or sleep through the smoke alarm. Even those who wake up may be groggy or move slowly.

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Potential Fire Hazards

Cooking Equipment

  • Keep an eye on anything you're cooking if the setting is higher than "warm."
  • Keep potholders, plastic utensils, towels, or other non-cooking equipment away from the stove, because these items can catch fire.
  • Roll up or fasten long, loose sleeves while cooking.
  • Store candy or cookies away from the stove so kids won't be tempted to climb on it to get to the treats.

Cigarettes, Lighters and Matches

Smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths. The tools used to light them are also a fire hazard, so:

  • Keep lighters and matches in a locked cabinet out of sight and reach of children, and remind children that they are tools for adults, not toys.
  • Make sure that cigarette butts are fully extinguished before emptying ashtrays. Never place a cigarette butt directly into a trashcan without dousing it with water first.

Furnaces, Fireplaces, and Space Heaters

Furnaces should be inspected annually. Keep boxes, paper, and other flammables away from the furnace. An outdoor shed is better.

There are other potential household fire hazards, so keep in mind that:

  • Fireplaces should be protected with screens or tempered glass doors. Keep kindling at least three feet away from the fireplace. Have the chimney inspected yearly and cleaned if necessary.
  • When purchasing an electric space heater, look for the UL mark. Keep at least three feet between the heater and anything that can burn. Turn the heater off before falling asleep or leaving the area you are heating.

Wood-Burning Stoves

  • Make sure wood-burning stoves are properly installed and meet your town's building and fire codes.
  • Do not burn trash or other items in the stove. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids to start a stove fire. Burn coal only if recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Remember that wood and coal stoves get very hot. If you have young children living in or visiting your home, supervise them carefully and consider installing a temporary stove guard to help prevent burns.
  • Follow stove instructions and cleaning and maintenance requirements.
  • Have chimneys inspected each year and cleaned, if necessary, by a professional chimney sweep to avoid dangerous creosote buildup.
  • Use an approved stone board under your wood or coal stove to protect the floor from heat and stray embers.

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Kerosene Heaters

  • Learn local and state codes and regulations about the use of kerosene heaters. These heaters are illegal for home use in some areas.
  • Use kerosene only. Never use gasoline in your heater. Gasoline is highly volatile, greatly increasing the risk of fire. Refill kerosene heaters outside after they have cooled down.
  • If a flare-up occurs, activate the manual shut-off switch and call your fire department.
  • Place the heater at least three feet away from anything that can burn and in a low traffic area so it will not be knocked over or trap you in the event of a fire.
  • Keep the room ventilated (a door open, or a window ajar) to prevent an indoor air pollution problem.

Gas-Fired Space Heaters


These heaters should not be used in small, enclosed areas -- especially bedrooms -- because there is potential for explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for lighting the pilot. Otherwise, gas vapors can accumulate and ignite, burning your hand or face.
  • Light a match to ignite the pilot before you turn on the gas; it will prevent gas buildup. Keep flammable materials away from gas-fired appliances.
  • Do not use a propane heater (LP) with a gas cylinder.

Other Hazards

  • Use proper fuses in electrical boxes, do not overload outlets, and use insulated and grounded electrical cords.
  • Keep trash cleaned up in attics, basements, and garages.
  • Be careful with gas equipment such as lawn mowers, snow blowers, and chain saws.
  • Avoid fireworks. Think of safety first when dealing with fireworks.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on February 25, 2016

Sources

SOURCES: WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise. The Home Safety Council. Centers for Disease Control.

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