Fire Safety for Your Home
By: Danny Lipford
Danny Lipford in full gear at fire safety demonstration for the CBS Early Show.
Over 400,000 residential home fires occurred in the United States in 2008—one every 78 seconds. They resulted in 2,755 deaths, over 13,000 injuries, and $8.5 billion in property damage. In addition hundreds more die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.
While cooking is the main cause of house fires, heating equipment surpasses it during the winter months.
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the chance of becoming one of these grim statistics, including:
- Residential sprinkler system
- Smoke detectors
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- Escape ladder for multistory homes
- Annual fireplace and furnace inspections
Though often overlooked when building or remodeling a home, a residential fire sprinkler system is the best way to protect your home from fire. While smoke alarms can warn you of a fire when you are home, it’s up to you to heed the alarm and take the appropriate action. A sprinkler system, on the other hand, acts to put out the fire in the crucial minutes when a fire first starts, whether you are home at the time or not.
Since sprinklers are activated by heat, not smoke, only the units that are located closest to the fire come on when a fire occurs. In 90% of the homes equipped with a sprinkler system that experienced a fire, only one sprinkler was needed to control the blaze, limiting water damage to the home.
The cost of installing a sprinkler system in a new home averages $1.61 per square foot, or a little over $3,000 for a 2,000 square foot home. In addition, having a sprinkler system installed in your home can result in a 5% to 30% reduction in your homeowner insurance fire protection.
More information on sprinkler systems can be found on the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition website.
In addition, every home should be equipped with smoke detectors to alert you in case of a fire.
The three main types of smoke alarms are:
- Optical: Better for detecting smoldering fires.
- Ionization: Better for detecting flaming fires.
- Combination: Contains both detectors to provide protection from smoldering and flaming fires.
How to Install Smoke Detectors:
- Install at least one smoke detector on each level of your home, with one located in or near each bedroom.
- Locate alarms on or near the ceiling and away from the corners of the room.
- Change batteries every 6 to 12 months.
- Clean detectors annually by gently vacuuming or blowing with canned air.
- Replace smoke detectors every 10 years.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless poisonous gas that is generated by fire or combustion.
Sources of carbon monoxide include:
- Natural gas and propane appliances such as stoves, space heaters, and water heaters.
- Gas, fuel oil, wood, or coal burning furnaces and heaters.
- Gas and wood burning fireplaces.
- Fires in your home.
- Gasoline and diesel powered engines used on cars, boats, and generators.
A multipurpose (ABC) fire extinguisher should be easily accessible at all times in your home, especially in the kitchen.
ABC fire extinguishers can be used on:
- Combustible materials including wood, cloth, and paper.
- Flammable liquids like oil and gasoline.
- Electrical fires from wiring and electrical equipment.
When using a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS, which stands for:
- Pull the pin on the extinguisher.
- Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the handle to discharge the chemical agent.
- Sweep the extinguisher from side to side across the fire.
Two-story homes should have an easily accessible escape ladder on the upper story. To use an escape ladder:
- Take out the ladder.
- Open the window.
- Lock the ladder in place.
- Secure the ladder over the edge of the window sill.
- Pull the tab to release the ladder.
- Climb carefully down the ladder to safety.
Finally, it’s important to have your fireplace and furnace inspected annually by a trained professional before cold weather arrives.
- Fireplace: Check for blockage, damage to the bricks and mortar, and creosote build-up. If excessive creosote is found, the chimney should be cleaned.
- Furnace: Check to be sure the burner and combustion chamber are in good condition and the unit is vented properly.