National Fire Prevention Week reminds us to be prepared in case of a house fire
By: Meagan Baron
October 9, 2019
Mosaic Insurance Alliance hopes that you never have to experience a fire. But the reality is that life happens. The best thing to do is to be prepared. When it comes to your finances, home insurance is definitely something that can help protect your current assets and future finances. But, what about your safety? Do you have a plan for that?
October 6-12 is National Fire Prevention Week. Are you taking the time to make sure that your home is prepared in case a fire happens?
Fires take a toll on our nerves to say the least. Fire drills help our brains access information better under stress, and in turn increases our ability to successfully help ourselves and others during a fire. While fire drills are most common in school and office buildings, they are something that you should consider for your own home. Do you, your kids, and common guests know the escape plan if a fire were to happen? Expect the unexpected.
Here are some basic things to consider regarding fire safety:
1. How are your smoke alarms doing?
- Have them in the right areas of your home. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says that there should be a smoke alarm in each bedroom and at least one on each floor of your home.
- Test them regularly to make sure that they are functional.
- Have backup batteries always on hand so that they are never dead.
- USFA says that it is best to have interconnected fire alarms throughout your home so that they are all triggered at once. This way all areas of the home will sound an alarm to notify everyone of what is going on.
- Do any alarms need replaced? USFA recommends replacing them when they are 10 years old.
2. What about your fire extinguisher(s)?
- Make sure that all your fire extinguishers are up to date. They do expire.
- Make sure that it is in condition to work if it needs to be used. You always want it to be full and to not have any damages, such as a wobbly handle or cracked hose.
- Monitor the pressure gauge to make sure it maintains a good reading.
- Have it in a designated spot that is easily accessible to everyone.
- Make sure that everyone in your house knows (1) where it is and (2) how to operate it in case they need it.
- Determine if you should you have more than one in your house. It doesn’t hurt to have more than one in areas that you think it might be needed—i.e. the kitchen, in a room with a fireplace, the garage, etc.
3. Do what you can to prevent electrical fires
- Have wiring that is all up-to-date and make sure that you check for defective wiring regularly.
- Are any wires that are plugged into outlets damaged or have weight on them? Make sure that you are not using wires that are cracked or exposed. Also, do not place objects, such as furniture, on top of wires.
- Use wires as they are intended. This goes for all kinds of things. For example, do not: (1) plug something into an outlet or extension cord that is too much for the cord, outlet, and/or circuit breaker to handle; (2) plug a device into a cord that was not designated for that specific item; (3) use something that should be replaced or that needs to be repaired; (4) overuse something and cause it to overheat; and (5) use something in ways/conditions outside of its intended purpose and/or abilities.
- Do not have undesignated wires in wet conditions. For example, do not use extension cords that are not meant to be outside on your porch or in your garage where they could be subject to rain and/or moisture.
- Periodically check all of your cords for damages. Also, unplug ones that are not in use.
- Regularly check your circuit breaker to make sure that it is working properly and not being overloaded. Sometimes, but not always, it is a sign that your circuit is overloaded if items are not working as well (i.e. computer, TV, fridge), or if your lights dim when something like the microwave is being used.
- If you have small children, have fireproof outlets. It is also good to educate your children on what not to do with outlets and wires.
- If your home is on the older side, consider looking into rewiring your home. Lots of older homes have outdated wiring systems that are more prone to fires like aluminum wiring and knob and tube wiring.
- Make sure that all your lightbulbs are the proper wattage for the fixtures they are being used for.
4. Make sure that the fire department can find you
- Clearly state your entire address when you call them.
- Make sure that your house number is very legible from the road.
- Tell them information that easily sets you apart from your neighbors, like the color of your home.
5. Have an emergency phone number list
- This is something that is good to have in general, especially if you have small children.
- It is best to have everyone in the house memorize the numbers by heart. But, it doesn’t hurt to have a list in multiple areas of the house and stored in everyone’s phone just in case.
- Make sure that children know how to use the phone to call important numbers like 911.
- Important numbers can include:
- Each parent’s/guardian’s cell phone and work phone (clearly labeled as such)
- Numbers of everyone who lives in the house
- Nearby neighbors
- Other family members and close friends
- Local police and fire department
6. The escape plan
- Everyone who lives in the house should participate. It also doesn’t hurt to participate with people who come to the home often like your children’s friends and babysitters.
- Walk through your house together and make a list of all the possible escape routes.
- If small children live with you, creating a floor map with exits clearly labeled is not a bad idea.
- Have escape ladders for each room that is above ground level. Make sure that everyone knows how to use them.
- Make sure that children know that saving toys is not important at all. They need to know that the important thing is making sure that everyone gets to safety.
- Have an outside designated meeting area that everyone knows by heart.
- Do a head count at your designated area and notify firefighters. (It is good to keep mental track of everyone in the house, including guests.) If someone is missing, make sure firefighters know the age, name, description, and other important characteristics of the person who is missing such as any disabilities (i.e. Are they wheelchair bound? Deaf? Blind?).
- Make sure that your plan takes in account if someone who lives with you, or frequently visits your home, is young (like babies and toddlers), elderly (65+), has a mobile disability, or has another disability that could hinder them from being safe in the event of a fire. Have at least one designated person who in charge of helping that person get to safety. Don’t get caught in a situation where everyone thought someone else was going to do it. According to the National Fire Data Center and Federal Emergency Management Agency, young children and elderly adults are the most likely to get injured or killed in a fire. In a study from 2017, young kids and the elderly accounted for 48% of fire deaths.
- Go over the plan with everyone on a regular basis and make updates when needed.
7. Put your plan into action!
- Don’t be all talk and no action. Actions speak louder than words—and they are more memorable! Plus, you can work out any kinks that words might not highlight, as well as expose new ideas that actions can reveal.
- Do a drill at least twice a year. Act as if a fire is occurring and have everyone participate.
- It is not a bad idea to do a drill during different conditions so that everyone is always prepared no matter what—a fire doesn’t always choose a convenient time to show up. Do drills in the different seasons with different weather conditions, during different times of the day, in the dark and light, etc.
- It wouldn’t hurt to also do extra drills that have scenarios if certain people are not home—i.e. mom and dad are not home right now, so what do we do this time?
- Practice exiting from all the different exit places you have established. Both windows and doors.
8. Avoid hazards that you have easy control over
- The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) names carelessness as a frequent cause of house fires.
- Do not smoke in bed. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), smoking is the leading cause to bed fires. Please be aware that electronic cigarette fires have been reported as well by the USFA.
- Be cautious of candles. Make sure that they are not left lit unattended. CPSC notes that open flames from items like candles are the second leading cause of bed fires.
- Have a fireplace that is operating correctly and do not leave it unattended.
- Keep items clear of all heaters.
- Practice safe cooking etiquette. For example, do not leave cooking equipment unattended when in use. From 2014-2016, cooking was the leading cause to house fires and injuries with 188,800 cooking house fires reported, according to USFA. In addition, USFA noted that a leading factor to nonconfined cooking fires was unattended equipment (40%).
- USFA recommends to store firewood at least 30 feet from your home and to clean your roofs, gutters, and yard regularly of twigs and leaves, especially in the dry seasons. These steps will make it so that you have less flammable material on and around your house.
- Keeping clean bedrooms can help everyone get to safety sooner and easier. Having a clear walkway to doors and windows is important. It will help keep doors and windows from getting blocked and there will be fewer tripping hazards.
Fires are unpredictable and can be devastating. A plan is not 100% perfect but having one in place definitely decreases the odds of catastrophic problems. Bottom line: be prepared.
Need some additional help with creating your plan? The National Fire Protection Association has some additional information, including a PDF checklist and mapping space to draw your home’s floor plan! They also have some additional print resources, including fun ones for kids.