© Sergey Ilin | Dreamstime.com
In 2012, Tennessee averaged one home fire fatality every four and a half days, making ours one of the highest rates in the nation. In an effort to prevent such devastating loss, fire departments work diligently to educate the public on fire safety and prevention. However, parents and grandparents should be educated as well. Here are a few tips to keep your family safe.
Put up smoke alarms. Do you have a smoke alarm in each bedroom? Outside bedroom doors? What about in the kitchen or living room? Every floor of your home needs smoke detectors. Replace batteries in the spring and fall, when the time changes. Vacuum or dust the alarm at least once a year, and test once a month. Studies show families have approximately two minutes to escape once the alarm sounds. When practicing your escape plan, use a stopwatch, but make it fun for the kids. Don’t scare, just educate.
Create an escape route. Draw a floor plan of your home, clearly marking windows and doors. Next, determine at least two escape routes from every room (include windows). Have your kids pretend to be detectives and find everything that blocks these exits: Furniture, TVs, or toys; then move them. For an escape plan to work, exits must be clear. Make sure everyone can quickly open all doors and windows, including quick release mechanisms on security bars and screens. Don’t forget to establish a meeting place outside. It’s important to practice your escape plan at least twice a year. The time you take to educate your family on this one part alone is often the key to prevent fire deaths.
Purchase a fire extinguisher and know how to use it. It should be large enough to put out a small fire, but small enough to handle easily. Make sure it also has the label of an independent testing lab. Then, learn how to use it. Contact your local fire department and find out if they offer extinguisher training; it’s worth your time. Be aware that fire extinguishers are only used to contain very small fires, after your family has safely left the house, and after 911 has been called. (When I say small, I mean wastebasket small. Not couch-on-fire small.) To operate, remember PASS: Pull pin, Aim at the base of fire, Squeeze lever, and Sweep side to side. If the room is full of smoke, you’re past the point of being able to contain the fire. Get out and stay out.
Know how fires start. Cooking is one of the leading causes of house fires. People get busy, lose track of time, even forget a pot is on the stove. Before you know it, dinner has gone up in flames. So pay attention. And remember that extinguisher we talked about? Never discharge one into a grease fire. Never throw water on a grease fire, either. Both will cause the contents to splatter and spread the flames. Instead, slide a lid over the pan, turn off the heat, and wait until the pan cools before removing. Also, don’t leave oven mitts, towels, or other combustibles near the stove, including leftover food and grease.
Fireplaces and space heaters also cause house fires. Professionally inspect and clean fireplaces annually. Cover openings with a metal or glass screen to contain embers and keep children and pets from falling in. At bedtime, make certain the fire is out. Never close the damper when hot ashes are present, which causes ashes to heat up, forcing carbon monoxide into the home. Keep all flammable materials at least three feet away from fireplaces and space heaters. Never use extensions cords or power strips with space heaters. Instead, plug directly into the wall. Always unplug space heaters when you go to bed and when you leave.