House fire dangers
It's probably not a surprise that 85 percent of civilian fire deaths happen at home. These days people rarely are killed in fires at workplaces or stores because virtually all commercial buildings are covered by strict fire codes. They have alarm systems, sprinklers and emergency exits, all of them tested or inspected periodically by fire safety officers.
Not so at home where in many cases the only safeguard is a single smoke alarm whose batteries never get checked.
According to records from 2005-2009, cooking equipment accounted for 42% of home structural fires, 41% of the injuries and 15% of fire related deaths. More than half of the injuries occurred when the homeowners tried to fight the fire themselves. Heating systems (which includes chimneys) followed as the second major cause with 17% of home fires, 21% of fire related fatalities and 13% of the injuries. Clogged dryer vents are also a major hazard.
While cooking is the leading cause of home fires and injuries, smoking remains the leading cause of home fire deaths. Fires caused by smoking and smoking related materials were responsible for 25% of all fire related fatalities. Medical oxygen was in use in at least seven percent of those fatalities where home smoking materials were the cause of the fire.
Fire safety tips
While it may be impossible to prevent a home fire, it is possible to reduce the chances of fire and fire related injuries and deaths. Fires are often the result of the improper maintenance of home equipment such as extension cords to heating appliances. Routine inspections of any items that could be a fire source are essential, yet many homeowners do not conduct these inspections, nor do they properly maintain their equipment.
For example, every time an extension cords is used, it should be inspected for nicks and cuts in the insulation and broken or loose prongs, especially the grounding prong. Damaged cords should be replaced immediately. Unless you are a qualified electrician, do not attempt to repair the damaged cord. Furthermore, just wrapping the damage with electrical tape is not a permanent fix. The minimal cost of a new cord far outweighs the expense of a fire.
Clothes dryers are another potential source for house fires. You want to make sure that the lint filters are cleaned, preferably before and after each use. This includes any vents to the outside of the home. Lint can be extremely flammable and should be removed.
Among cooking accidents, the leading cause of all house fires, hot grease and cooking oils are two of the main sources. Spills and overflows can contact hot surfaces or open flames and ignite. Old grease can collect on oven surfaces and ignite when subjected to heat. Therefore, it is essential to clean the oven or range surfaces, keeping them free of combustible materials. Safe cooking practices should also be employed. Any frozen or cold food item can cause explosive results when introduced quickly into hot oil or grease.
According to a 2010 NFPA survey, 96 percent of homes in the United States have at least one smoke alarm; however, the survey indicates that only 74 percent of those alarms actually work. Two of the leading causes of non-working alarms are missing or dead batteries. In battery-only units, nuisance alarms which are used to warn of low battery life often cause homeowners to disconnect or remove the battery.
Batteries should be changed on a regular basis. Even alarms that operate on house electricity have a battery backup which should be checked as well. A good rule of thumb is to change the batteries twice a year. For example, replace alarm batteries when the time changes in the spring and the fall. This is a good memory jogger and keeps your alarm operational. Fire safety experts also recommend testing smoke alarms monthly.
Newer homes often have smoke alarms powered by the home's electrical system -- however these generally have battery backups.
Alarm placement is critical, too. NFPA standards require an alarm on each level of a home, outside each sleeping area and in each bedroom. While individually installed alarms will work, alarms that are interconnected are more likely to warn inhabitants, especially if the fire is in an unoccupied location. In an interconnected system, an alarm that is activated in one area will sound all of the other alarms.
Alarms can be activated either by an ionization method or by a photoelectric method. Each method senses fire differently. The ionization method detects smoke while the photoelectric method detects changes in light and heat. The best alarms use a combination of both methods for better protection.
Using a fire extinguisher
There are three common fire classifications: Class A, for combustibles, such as paper, wood and cloth; Class B, for liquids, like oil, grease or gasoline; and Class C, for electrical fires. Extinguishers in the home should be rated for all three and will have an ABC label.
To use an extinguisher, use the PASS method: Pull the pin; Aim at the base of the fire; Squeeze the handle; and, Sweep side to side. Start several feet back from the fire and move slowly toward it as you extinguish. Be extremely careful on grease and oil fires. Hitting the liquid with full force can cause it to splatter, propelling hot grease and flames onto surrounding areas and possibly burning you in the process. Check with your local fire department t if you have further questions about fire extinguishers.