This is particularly key for families and homes as these figures from the U.S. Fire Administration attest:
- 91% of all civilian fatalities in residential building fires involve thermal burns and smoke inhalation.
- Bedrooms (55%) are the leading location where civilian fire fatalities occur in residential buildings.
- 51% of civilian fire fatalities in residential buildings occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This period also accounts for 49% of fatal fires.
- 70% of fire victims in residential buildings were escaping (36%) or sleeping (34%) at the time of their deaths
- Smoking was the leading cause of fatal residential building fires.
- 13% of civilian fire fatalities in residential buildings were less than 10 years old.
With this in mind, we surveyed several fire science graduates who will be attending the CSU graduation ceremony on Oct. 21. As a large population of our student body includes firefighters, we decide to get the information from the experts.
Perhaps the most important advice the majority of respondents stressed was smoke detectors.
“One of the most important fire safety tips for a family is to ensure there is a smoke detector on each level of a home,” said Capt. Brian Weeks of Roanoke
County (Va.) Fire and Rescue. “Early detection is paramount to surviving a fire emergency.”
Ralph W. Pullen would agree. “In just this year, I have had several fires where the occupants were asleep and awoken by operating smoke detectors. Without
operating smoke detectors, there would have been a strong possibility of serious injuries or deaths,” said the Mountain Brook (Ala.) Fire Department lieutenant.
Thus, the need to test your smoke detectors in your home was emphasized by all. In fact, Capt. Richard H. Campbell of the Boiling Springs Fire District in Greenville, S.C. suggested not stopping at checking detectors in your home. “Even in motels and hotels, which are your home for the night, weekend or even for a week. Treat it as your home and test those detectors,” he said.
Smoke detectors aren’t the only devices you should have in your home according to Mike Bunch, a retired paramedic/firefighter with Metro Nashville Fire Department.
“It has now become important to add carbon monoxide detectors to your home. Carbon monoxide is now becoming a problem across the United States,” he said. “It has cost numerous people their lives. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas. Some possible causes of carbon monoxide vapors include poorly working heating and ventilation systems and running generators inside homes.”
The firefighters also recommend changing the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors when you change your clocks during daylight savings time or every six months. “Many local fire departments give the public batteries along with smoke detectors,” added Bunch.
Another safety device to check in homes is a fire extinguisher. This can be done by your local firefighters, whom Assistant Fire Chief Mark Carrick of Independence (Mo.) Fire Department advises to “make it a positive teaching opportunity by offering tips on fire extinguishers such as type, size and location.
This can be done even if you are there for another reason.”
Carrick also points out that firefighters can show homeowners “how they can protect their property through the proper use of extension cords. Improper use of extension cords and electrical equipment is a huge contributor to residential fire loss.”
Pullen added a warning for homeowners: Be careful and only use extension cords as they are designed to be used. “Extension cords are for temporary use only, and are often overloaded or misused. The longer you use an extension cord, the greater the chance it will fail,” he explained.
This brings up the point of reading product information carefully, which Pullen said is vital to fire prevention.
“Make sure to read and understand the operating, installation and warning instructions that are included with your products. Manufacturers spend lots of money researching, then printing those warning and instructions,” he commented. “Many of the fires involving these products could have been avoided if the product had not been misused or the operators had followed the manufacturer’s recommendations.”
And please read instructions of space heaters, which account for numerous fire and deaths each winter. “Space heaters are a nice option for heating a room during the winter months,” said Weeks. “Keep them at least three feet away from things that can burn, such as curtains or stacks of newspaper. Always turn off
heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.”
When it comes to storage of stacks of newspapers or other combustible materials, the firefighters offered several recommendations.
Gordon said, “Keep clutter to a minimum in your residence. Never store large piles of paper or magazines. Combustible material stored in an attic or garage can lead to the spread of fire. Fire doubles in size every minute, and if you provide enough fuel in the way of papers and unnecessary storage, the results can be a disaster.”
“Items like hot water heaters and space heaters need room to vent,” said Joe Gordon, a firefighter with the Winslow Township Fire Department in New Jersey. “If you store combustible materials in the area of items that have pilot ignition a fire could easily occur.”
He also suggested never storing flammable or combustible liquids in the residence. “Items like gasoline containers, auto parts cleaners, propane and any other flammable liquid should be stored outside. There are cabinets that are sold that are fire rated that can be used to store items if absolutely necessary,” Gordon advised.
Speaking of combustible, Campbell urges all parents to keep fire starting materials such lighters, matches secured from the reach of children at all times. “Not just out of reach, kids can get into places you won’t think they can.”
When cooking, Gordon and others advised never leaving the stove or oven unattended. “If you must leave the residence, turn all cooking appliances off and
resume cooking when you return. Never cook if you are tired and never lie down while waiting for cooking to complete,” he said.
Furthermore, when cooking or grilling outside, “keep your grill at least 10 feet away from your house or any shrubs and plants. Always clean your grill of any food and grease debris after cooking,” said Weeks.
Another safety tip for families that is strongly recommended is to have an escape route planned in case of a fire.
“Plan and practice fire escape drills from your home. Have more than one escape route,” explained Bunch. “If one of the escape routes is blocked, you will have
another exit in mind. Many people become trapped in their own homes during fires due to not knowing what to do.” He also said families should have a specific meeting area outside after exiting the home such as a tree or the mailbox.
In the event you or a family member is burned, several firefighters offered tips and clarifications.
“Regardless what other people have told you, never apply butter or any other oily substance to a burn,” warned Bunch. “The pain you are having from the burn is because the body is still burning. Immediately flush the affected area of the body with copious amounts of cool running water. If you apply an oily substance such as butter, it allows the burn to continue.”
“Salves and oils will hold in the heat and cause more problems with the healing process,” echoed Campbell who also stressed any burn victim to seek immediate medical attention.
And if your clothing catches afire, remember the old adage: Stop, Drop and Roll.
“It is a common and natural reaction to run if your clothes catch fire. Human nature takes over and says run,” Bunch clarified. “This is the wrong thing to do. Always remember if your clothes catch fire to stop, drop and roll. This smothers and extinguishes the fire. Running only adds more oxygen to fuel the fire and causes more harm.”
For the firefighters out there, Carrick suggested educating families when a fire occurs in a neighborhood to enhance public awareness.
“Canvass the immediate neighborhood with door tags that have information on fire safety. Information on the tags could contain everything from a reminder to test your smoke detectors, do a home fire drill, check on your elderly neighbors, remind children to get completely out of the street when they hear emergency vehicles approaching and a host of other pertinent information,” he commented.
Lastly, in case of any fire, please dial 9-1-1 immediately.