Fire Safety

Home Fire Statistics

According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, fire departments nationwide responded to 403,000 residential fires, with 2,755 deaths reported from fire and 13,560 injuries. Death from burns and fires is the fifth most common cause of unintentional deaths in the U.S., and 4 out of every 5 fires occur in the home. More Americans are killed each year by fires than by all natural disasters combined.

Most fires are reported to occur during winter months, when space heaters and flammable materials ignite and can fill a home with thick, black smoke within minutes. Small flames can become a major fire in less than 30 seconds, and residents can become trapped in the home, breathing in toxic smoke and gases.

With the proper fire prevention methods and routine maintenance, the majority of home fires and fire deaths are preventable.

Fire Prevention Tips

Federal fire prevention organizations suggest the following basic tips for fire safety in the home:

  • Have a fire escape plan
  • Never smoke in bed
  • Put a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and on every floor
  • Check all electrical appliances and wiring to be sure cords are in good condition
  • Routinely test smoke alarms and replace batteries
  • Consider installing fire sprinklers in the home
  • Never leave food unattended while cooking

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are the single most important means of preventing fire deaths, according to government fire safety documents. The American Red Cross estimates that nearly 75 percent of home fire deaths that occurred in 2005 could have been prevented had there been a functioning smoke alarm in the home. A working smoke alarm can reduce the risk of death from a home fire by at least 50 percent.

It is recommended to install smoke alarms on every floor of a house, including the basement, with alarms placed close to bedrooms or inside bedrooms, if possible.

While there are many brands of smoke alarms, all alarms fall into three main categories: ionization sensor alarms, photoelectric sensor alarms, and dual sensor alarms. Smoke alarms can be hardwired into a home’s electrical system or can use a 9-volt battery or a 10-year lithium long-life battery. Batteries should be replaced each year if long-life alarms are not used. Smoke alarms should be tested monthly using the test button, and alarms need to be replaced entirely every 10 years

Cooking Safety

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, with most cooking fires beginning with unattended food on the range, stove, or grill.

To prevent cooking fires and accidents, remember the following tips:

  • Never leave food unattended
  • Remove flammable objects from cooking areas, such as towels, potholders, paper, or cleaning supplies
  • Avoid wearing clothing with long or loose-fitting sleeves or clothing that is potentially flammable, such as cotton, rayon, or Chenille robes
  • Keep pot handles turned in
  • Clean cooking surfaces often to prevent food and grease buildup
  • Never grill in a garage or carport, and keep grills at least 10 feet from eaves or siding
  • Only use propane tanks with a three-pronged valve (overfill protection device)
  • Check that the venture tubes are not blocked and that there are no leaks in hoses or connections for gas-powered grills

Smoking Safety

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable home fire deaths. Smoking accidents frequently occur with mattresses, bedding, furniture, and floor coverings.

The following tips can help prevent smoking accidents in the home:

  • Never smoke when drowsy or while under the influence of alcohol or medications
  • Never smoke while in bed
  • Do not leave burning cigarettes unattended
  • Smoldering ashes should not be thrown in the trash
  • Choose fire-safe cigarettes

Heater Safety

Since most home fires occur during winter months, space heaters and other alternative forms of heat pose a real danger in the home if used incorrectly or if the electrical component is inferior.

To prevent heater fires, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Clear a 3-foot area on all sides of a space heater and remove flammable materials such as curtains, blankets, or paper
  • Use space heaters that automatically turn off if they tip over
  • Turn off space heaters before sleeping
  • Never use space heaters to dry clothing
  • Have chimneys inspected yearly
  • Use a fireplace screen

Electrical Wiring and Appliances

Faulty electrical systems, defective appliances, and inferior extension cords can lead to dangerous home electrical fires that could result in thousands of dollars worth of property damage. Homes that are more than 40 years old have an increased risk of fires due to faulty electrical wiring than newer homes, as current power demands are often too much for aging wiring systems.

Use the following tips to keep your home safe from electrical fires:

  • Use only appliances, extension cords, and surge protectors listed by Underwriters Laboratories or other nationally-recognized testing facilities
  • Throw away appliances that spark, smoke, or overheat
  • Report broken outlets, flickering lights, or hot light switches to an electrician immediately
  • Never run electrical cords under rugs or next to walls where heat can build up
  • Use heavy-duty cords for high-wattage appliances
  • Replace all two-hole outlets with three-hole outlets
  • Never overload extension cords or wall sockets

Holiday Safety

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires that occur during the holiday season cause more than 400 deaths and 1,650 injuries each year, with Christmas trees, holiday lights, and candles often to blame.

Make sure your home is safe during the holiday season with these important tips:

  • Keep Christmas tree stands filled with water and check that fresh trees are not near a heat source or a heat vent
  • Remove Christmas trees as soon as they are dry, or after 2 weeks
  • Never burn tree branches in a fireplace or woodburning stove
  • Use only “Fire Resistant” or “Flame Retardant” artificial trees
  • Do not leave holiday lights on unattended
  • Use only Underwriters Laboratories- or Intertek (ETL)- listed lights
  • Do not connect more than three strings of lights
  • Discontinue use of any light strands whose wires are warm to the touch

Other Safety Concerns

Inferior electrical products and some household items have the potential to cause a fire or lead to extensive property damage, injury, or death.

The following items are often recalled by manufacturers due to the potential for fire and burn hazards if there are electrical problems or manufacturing errors:

Sources:

  1. American Red Cross, Fire Safety: http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/Preparedness/Fire/FireSafetyFactSheet.pdf
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Home and Recreational Safety, Fires: http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Fire-Prevention/
  3. FireSafety.gov: http://www.firesafety.gov
  4. National Fire Protection Association: http://www.nfpa.org
  5. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Fire Safety: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/fire_sfy.html
  6. U.S. Fire Administration: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov