Fires in your home can devastate your family and property alike. Increase your fire preparedness with these basic fire safety and prevention tips.
Is your fire preparedness plan up to date? Home fires are dangerous and can result in devastating property damage. It is important to prepare for the unexpected by planning and practicing steps to protect your family in the event of a fire.
Protect your home with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
What are the different types of fire alarms?
- Battery-powered alarms may use a nine-volt battery or 10-year lithium battery.
- Hard-wired smoke alarms operate on the home's electrical system and include a battery backup in case of power failure.
- Combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors may be a good choice for certain locations such as the garage, and near heat sources such as furnaces, water heaters, dryers and fireplaces.
- For the hearing-impaired, smoke alarms with an audible alarm and bright flashing lights are available.
- Make sure your alarm is listed or approved by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Follow manufacturers' recommendations on when to replace smoke alarms.
How do you install smoke alarms?
- To install a battery-powered alarm, all you need is a drill and screwdriver. Always follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.
- Hard-wired alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician. All hard-wired smoke alarms should be interconnected: If one alarm is activated, all alarms will sound.
- Install a smoke alarm in each bedroom.
- Never install a smoke alarm too close to windows, doors, vents or ceiling fans where drafts could blow smoke away from an alarm.
- If you have questions about where to install your smoke alarms, contact your local fire department. Many departments will conduct home smoke alarm inspections for free or a minimal fee.
When should I test the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors?
- If you have standalone battery-powered alarms, test them once a month and replace the batteries once a year.
- Make sure that everyone in your household knows the sound of the alarms.
- Never paint any part of a smoke alarm.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions when cleaning your alarms. Dust and debris can usually be removed by using a vacuum cleaner attachment.
Have a fire extinguisher handy
To operate a fire extinguisher, remember the word PASS: Pull
the pin and release the locking mechanism. Aim
the nozzle low and at the base of the fire. Squeeze
the lever slowly and evenly. Sweep
the nozzle from side to side.
- Select a multi-purpose Class ABC extinguisher that is large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle.
- Read the instructions that come with the fire extinguisher and become familiar with its parts and operation before a fire breaks out. Local fire departments or fire equipment distributors often offer hands-on fire extinguisher training.
- Install fire extinguishers close to an exit.
- Keep your back to a clear exit when you use the device so you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
- Know when to go. Fire extinguishers are one element of a fire response plan, but the primary element is safe escape.
- Remember that each extinguisher must be serviced annually and may need to be recharged.
Consider a home fire sprinkler system
- Residential fire sprinkler systems provide added protection above smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.
- Fire sprinklers immediately respond to a fire while it is still small — controlling the spread of deadly heat, flames and toxic smoke whether or not the occupants have appropriately responded to the signaling smoke alarm.
- These sprinklers are smaller than commercial or industrial sprinklers and can fit in with almost any decor.
- During home construction or remodeling, a home fire sprinkler system can be cost effective.
Review your home for potential fire hazards
Just by being aware of common fire hazards and keeping an eye out for problems, you could save your home and possessions from serious damage.
- Examine the electrical cords: Look for any fraying of the cord. If you see any, replace the cord or appliance immediately. And always remember to grasp the plug, not the cord to prevent future fraying.
- Review your extension cords: Avoid using “octopus plugs”, which allow many extension cords to be plugged into a single receptacle and don’t plug many extension cords together.
- Examine the light switches: Replace buzzing or sparking switches. Also, have an electrician review your wiring as these may be signs your home needs to be rewired.
- Review your light bulbs: Do not use light bulbs with a higher wattage rating than recommended on the fixture.
- Examine the clothes dryer: Cleaning the lint trap should be part of your regular laundry routine. Left untouched, lint can build up in your dryer duct with every load of laundry. Have a professional inspect and clean your dryer at least once a year to help eliminate a fire hazard.
- Glassware: When sunlight passes through some kinds of glassware, the concentrated ray can ignite flammable materials such as stacks of papers. Play it safe by moving all glass accessories, such as vases, away from windows.
- Loose batteries: Nine-volt batteries, which power smoke detectors, are designed with both posts on the top. Bits of metal, including other batteries and loose change, can create a bridge between the posts that causes a heat-creating charge. To prevent this, keep unused batteries in their original packaging and cover the posts of expired batteries with the black electrical tape before properly disposing of the batteries.
- Electric blankets: Keep your blanket flat while using it. And make sure your electric blanket is certified by a national testing laboratory, such as UL. Read more tips for electric blanket safety.
Some communities offer a home fire inspection through their local fire department. They will inspect your home and recommend steps for improving fire safety. During the inspection, they should review all fire hazards in your home, from testing smoke detectors to making sure curtains and other flammables are a safe distance from heat sources. Electrical factors they might inspect include:
- A proper ground: "One thing a home fire inspector should check is to make sure your home is grounded," says Bill Burke, division manager of electrical engineering for the National Fire Protection Association. Grounding diverts excess current that may result from an electrical surge and helps to keep electrical systems, devices and humans safer.
- Electrical panel: "There should be air space around the main panel," Burke says. Inside, there shouldn't be evidence of overheating or corrosion, and the fuses and breakers should be the correct size.
- Appliances: "If you have a device that's going to cause a home fire, it's most likely going to be one that draws a lot of current," Burke says. Inspectors might check the integrity of cords and plug-ins on fridges, stoves and other large appliances.
- Out-of-date equipment: A home fire inspector can suggest improvements to reduce the risk of an electrical fire. One important update would be to install arc-fault circuit interrupters, which are designed to detect fire-starting arcs and shut down power.
- General safety concerns: The inspector also should look for electrical hazards such as receptacles and switches that aren't functioning properly, light bulbs exceeding the maximum wattage, damaged cords and overloaded power strips.
And finally, practice fire safety
- Talk to your children about fire safety.
- Plan at least two ways to get out of any room.
- Agree on a meeting place outside where everyone can gather.
- Practice your fire safety plan yearly.
If your property sustains damage in a home fire, file a claim with a claims representative