Fire Prevention Week: Tips to Keep Your Family Safe at Home

Posted on Thursday October 08, 2015

Fire Prevention Week, typically observed in October, has been observed Sunday through Sunday since 1922 as reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). This week is an excellent time to take stock and eliminate potential fire hazards in your home – after all, being aware of possible risks and taking steps to correct them can go a long way toward keeping your family safe.  If your HOA or community association distributes fire safety information, be sure to familiarize yourself with the materials and put any prevention tips into practice. You can also consult with a good property management company for proven fire safety insights and advice.  We asked Morgan Lepson, a property manager at FirstService Residential in Maryland, for some proven fire safety tips.
“As both a property manager and a homeowner, I know how important it is to stay vigilant at all times – in fact, small details may seem inconsequential, but can create fire hazards if not addressed throughout the year,” she says. “There are so many areas to watch for, from making sure your summertime barbecue grill and outdoor fire pit are far enough away from any structure, to taking steps to ensure your fireplace is clean, well-maintained and inspected before you light it this winter – and everything in between.”
Below, she shares some additional guidelines to maximize fire safety at home every week of the year:

1.  Make a plan.

Create a fire escape plan for your entire family – and don’t forget your pets. Review the plan and practice your escape procedures together as a group to ensure everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of fire.  If you live in a high-rise or mid-rise, be sure you’re familiar with your building’s fire safety guides and equipment, as well as the locations of all exits and stairwells. If your community has as an Emergency Action Plan in place, participate in fire drills to become familiar with escape routes and procedures. It’s also a good idea to request extra training if you need it. And if you live in a managed community and have health or mobility issues that could impact a fire rescue, let your property manager know you’ll require extra assistance.  If your community isn’t professionally managed, notify your local fire department to alert them about your needs.

2. More pet prep.

Kudos to you for including your four-legged family members in your fire escape plan – now take a few more steps to further enhance their safety.  Make sure Fido or Fluffy is always collared and tagged – you should be doing this already – and keep a leash or crate near escape route exits.   Microchipping is a good idea, too.  And if fire does strike, take comfort in the fact that fire departments are starting to become more pet-aware and pet-friendly, and many now include pet-sized oxygen masks as part of their life-saving equipment – hopefully, your fire department is one of them.  If you want to find out for sure, give your local ladder a call.

3. Install smoke detectors and check them. 

Most home fire deaths happen when people are asleep, so it’s critical you have working smoke detectors in your home to provide an early warning.  How effective are they?  The National Fire Protection Association estimates that a working smoke alarm in your bedroom cuts your chances of dying in a fire by half.  Be sure to install smoke detectors in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of your residence, including the basement. And don’t forget to test the batteries twice a year – as a helpful reminder, do it when you set your clocks forward and back in spring and fall.

4. A watched pot…  

We can’t say it strongly enough – don’t leave the kitchen while you’re boiling, frying, roasting or baking. Stray crumbs or overheated pots and pans can quickly boil over or catch fire, and that can spell disaster if you’re not there to take quick action to address it.  Once ignited, kitchen fires spread quickly, so keep your eyes open and make sure you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen – and know how to use it.

5. Unplug it when not in use.

Don’t let your morning rush turn into a bigger disaster by leaving hair implements like curling irons and straighteners plugged in after you dash out the door. These appliances can reach temperatures of 450º or more, and can cause a fire if they come in contact with flammable items.  A safer bet?  Unplug everything – even if you only leave the room for a few moments.

6. Complete your fire safety equipment list.

Although exiting your home during a fire should always be your first priority, small, contained fires (such as one in a wastebasket) can be eliminated with a home fire extinguisher – but ONLY after everyone else has exited the building and the fire department has been called. Select a multi-purpose extinguisher that isn’t too big to handle. Follow instructions on proper use, and always keep your back to an exit so you can escape. If the room has filled with smoke, exit immediately.  For even more protection, install carbon monoxide detectors – they can alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide gas, known as an odorless, colorless, silent killer.

7. Clean your gutters.

Plant debris, sediment and dirt can build up inside your home’s gutters, especially after the long, dry summer many people experienced across the country.  This dried out debris can ignite if the wind carries stray embers to the roof from your barbeque or fire pit, so keeping your gutters clean can significantly reduce the risk of fire.

8. Keep your fireplace up to snuff.

Fireplaces are a beautiful and inviting addition to many homes, so if you have one, lucky you!  FirstService Residential’s Lepson already mentioned fireplace safety, but whether yours is wood-burning or gas-fueled, she recommends taking a few more precautions before you curl up in front of a cozy fire.  Start with an inspection from a certified specialist to make sure your fireplace is in good working order.  Once it’s got a clean bill of health and you’re ready to light your flame, keep your hearth and mantel free from papers, decorations and other potentially flammable materials.  Don’t forget your kids and pets – dancing flames can be hypnotic, so keep them a safe distance away (and away from sharp fireplace tools as well), and consider installing a childproof fireplace gate.  And it goes without saying – never leave a burning fire unattended, and make sure it’s completely extinguished before you leave your home or go to bed.

9. Don’t let fire spook you this Halloween. 

A bit of good-natured fright is all part of the Halloween spirit – but that shouldn’t include fire scares. So if you want reuse electrical decorations from last year, be sure they’re in good working order before turning them on – and that includes inspecting cords for fraying.  Want to illuminate your jack-o’-lantern?  Use battery-powered candles, instead of lighting wax ones.  Keep all paper and plastic decor away from sources of heat or flame – and always out of reach of children and pets.  Speaking of children, teach your kids how to stay safe around fire – and take special precautions if they’re wearing masks or costumes with limited vision or trailing fabric.  And prepare for the worst – make sure they know how to stop, drop and roll.   

10. Something to be thankful for – a fire-safe Thanksgiving.

We’ve all seen videos of kitchen fires and turkey fryer infernos each Thanksgiving – those long cooking hours and plenty of distractions are often a recipe for disaster.  There may be lots of children and pets around, so be sure to keep them away from hot foods, appliances and surfaces, as well as any matches or utility lighters that may be in use.  Exercise caution with appliances like electric knives, coffee pots or plate warmers – never leave them unattended and unplug them as soon as you leave the room. And while decorative tapers or candles enhance a room’s ambiance, never leave them unattended on the dinner table – or for that matter, anywhere in your home. 

11. Keep your winter holidays safe – and merry.

If you’re purchasing new holiday decorations or reusing those from last year, check first for damage and make sure they’re flame resistant or flame retardant.  If you’re planning to put up a natural tree, place it at least three feet away from any heat source, without blocking any exits. As for decorations, use lights that have been lab-tested (never candles!) and replace any strings that appear worn or have loose bulb connectors. And remember, always turn off your tree lights before you leave the house or go to bed.

Fire Prevention Week is a great reminder and perfect opportunity to minimize fire risks and maximize safety in and around your home. And once you become aware of the hazards and how to reduce them, you’re well on your way to keeping your family safe the other 51 weeks of the year.  For even more comprehensive fire safety tips, information and resources, visit the National Fire Protection Agency or the Red Cross.

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