Home fires kill approximately 2,500 Americans every year and injure five times that many. They also cause more than six billion dollars a year in property damage. Burns and smoke inhalation damage can be extremely unpleasant, even if you do survive. Children five and under are twice as likely to die in a house fire as adults. Nearly 100% of these tragedies are preventable.
Fire security begins with preventing unintended fires from occurring in the first place. Grab a notebook and a pen and walk through your house, conducting a fire audit of each room.
- Faulty, loose, or worn electrical wires or connections.
- Overloaded electrical circuits.
- Overloaded extension cords.
- Lamps with incandescent bulbs which are insufficiently shielded from flammable items.
- Flammable items near cooking appliances such as stoves, ovens, and toasters.
- Flammable items near home or shop heaters, including portable space heaters.
- Creosote buildup in chimneys.
- Candles and kerosene lanterns with insufficient protective shielding. (Consider upgrading all of these to LED lanterns.)
- Chemicals or other highly flammable items in living space.
- Chemicals or other highly flammable items in attic space in warm regions.
- Matches or lighters within reach of children.
- Obstructions or clutter in traffic corridors which could increase your time to escape during a fire.
Also note the presence or absence of fire safety equipment:
- Smoke and heat detectors
- Fire extinguishers
Next, map exit paths from a fire in any part of the house. This is particularly important from rooms in basements or upper floors, rooms with no windows, and rooms located far from the front door. A fire can begin in any room — plan for what you will do if that happens.
The Exterior Check
Now go outside and check the exterior of your house. Ensure that your lightning rod is sturdy, well attached, and well grounded. Document any combustibles that are stored near your home.
Define a roundup point where all family members will gather in the event of a fire. It should be far enough away from the house to be safe, even if the entire structure is aflame. Ideally it should be somewhat defensible, as you may be meeting there after someone sets your house on fire to force you outside.
You should now have a written list of items that need to be repaired, upgraded, added, or removed. Do it.
In The Event of a Fire
In the event of a fire, everyone not actively engaged in putting out the fire should evacuate immediately. Persons fighting the fire should evacuate if they experience difficulty breathing or if the fire spreads to the structure of the house. Some people recommend a five second rule — if you can’t put the fire out in five seconds you should evacuate. Personally, I’ve never been able to tell time in a real emergency situation. If the fire is growing smaller, I am getting enough oxygen, and my fire extinguisher still has fuel — I will stay and fight. If the fire is growing larger, I am having difficulty breathing, or I lack effective tools to fight the fire, I will evacuate.
Remember to aim your fire extinguisher at the base of the fire – to attack the fuel source which is feeding the fire.
Fires require oxygen, so closing doors between the fire and other parts of the house will slow a fire from spreading.
Smoke rises, so if your path is blocked you can find cleaner air near the floor. However, you should be focusing on leaving the structure before clean air becomes a problem.
Do not stop on the way out of the house to pick up your prized possessions. Stuff is replaceable, family members are not.
Fire drills are the best way to ensure that everyone in the house knows what to do and where to go in the event of a fire. Drills should cover various scenarios, such as:
- A grease fire in the kitchen.
- A lightning strike.
- An electrical fire in any room.
- A Molotov cocktail or gasoline fire attack from outside the home.