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Fire Prevention at Home

Fire prevention in the home is often very basic. The trouble is, very few people take the time to think about it. Being proactive about YOUR home and YOUR fire prevention and escape plans can save you precious time that can make the difference between minor damage and tragedy.

Use Common Sense

We all have common sense, but the speed of everyday life can make us lose our perspective.

Take the time to walk around your home and look for fire hazards. Do you observe Basic Dryer Safety Guidelines? Does your furnace have plenty of free space around it? If you or anyone in your home is a smoker, where do they smoke, and where do they keep ashtrays? Where is that wood pile? Make sure it is in a safe location: place your kindling away from the house and away from anything combustible.

It is not surprising that most house fires start in cluttered spaces, especially where combustible items are exposed to high heat. As you walk around your home, look for these dangers and think about what you can do to reduce the risk of fire.

Create a Plan

Everyone in your home should have a common understanding about what to do in the event of a fire. Creating and practicing an evacuation plan can help you to:

  • Remain calm and act wisely in the event of a fire.
  • Consider alternate escape routes if your usual exits became blocked.
  • Anticipate the actions of others in your home; knowing the agreed plan can help firefighters decide where to look for persons trapped inside.

Help yourself visualize your exit plan by drawing a map.

Our home - floor plan map with labels

Drawing a map will help you define exits more clearly and it will serve as a device for discussion. Decide how you would exit if you were in each room of your home and what you would do if an exit were blocked. If you have children, drawing a route with colors can help them remember the exit plans you discuss. To further reinforce potential exit plans, practice fire drills once per a year.

Whether you choose to carry out fire drills or not (you should), decide on a meeting place. Having a meeting place lets everyone in the home know who is safe and, furthermore, ensures that everyone maintains a safe distance from the fire.

Basic Fire Safety

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Stop, Drop and Roll - Stop, Drop, and Roll is probably the most widely recognized fire safety technique, and for good reason. Remember, if your clothes catch fire, stop where you are, drop to the floor, and roll until the fire is extinguished. This technique works because fires thrive on oxygen. By rolling, you are smothering the fire and keeping it from burning oxygen, forcing the fire to go out.

Fires and Closed Doors

Sometimes, when fires occur and alarms go off, you might be behind a closed door. In such a situation, it is instinct - BUT DANGEROUS - to throw open the door and run out. To the best of your ability, pull together your wits and remember these guidelines:

  • First, check for smoke entering through cracks around the door. Smoke indicates the fire is not far away and, therefore, you should NOT use that exit. The layman might think smoke and flames are escapable if one is quick enough, but be assured, the heat and filthy air are not to be bargained with.
  • If you do not see smoke entering around the door, check the door for warmth by placing you palm against its surface. If it does not feel warm, hold your hand a few inches from the door knob, then, if you don't feel heat, touch the door knob. If either the door surface or knob feel warm or hot, check for alternate exits. If there are no alternate exits, stay in the room until help arrives.
  • If there is a window in the space that is too high to safely escape from, but you are able to safely open the window, do so. If there are no windows, remember to stay low - because heat and smoke rise, the most clean, cool air will be close to the floor.
  • While you are waiting for help, find anything to block the smoke from entering your space. Cloth, especially when wet, works especially well for blocking smoke. Towels, sheets, clothing, etc. will serve as effective seals to block smoke - if you have access to water, USE IT!
  • In the same way you can block smoke around the door, you can prevent smoke from entering your lungs by holding a wet cloth over your nose and mouth. If you do not have access to water, dry cloth will help as well.

Extinguish Small Fires Before They Become Large

baking soda

In any fire situation, calling 911 is the best choice and you should not risk spreading the fire or hurting yourself.

With that in mind, to contain a small fire, using a fire extinguisher is often the best choice. However, if you do not have one in your home, there are other ways to put out small fires.

A common kitchen fire, the grease fire, can be put out with the lid of a pan. If the fire is small enough for you to put a lid over it, the fire will “put itself out." When you cover the fire with the lid, oxygen cannot reach the flames. This lack of oxygen to the flames extinguishes the fire before the grease can spatter and and spread.

Small fires can also be put out with regular household baking soda. A steady dusting will put out the fire, but for large grease fires, be wary of dumping the powder, which can cause spattering.

NEVER use water to put out a grease fire, it will only spread it.

Fire Safety Equipment

There are three basic pieces of fire safety equipment that every home should have.

First, your home should have at least one fire extinguisher. At the very least, homeowners should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Other fire extinguishers should be appropriated throughout the house. Consider the size of your home and potential fire hazards when deciding quantity and placement of fire extinguishers. Most importantly, be sure that you understand how to USE the device.

Smoke detectors are the second vital piece of fire safety equipment. Like the extinguisher, one smoke detector should be placed in the kitchen. Home owners need to have one detector on every level, AND one in or near every bedroom.

Be concerned about the operation of your smoke detectors. When things are going well, it is easy to forget they are there. Do not forget to change your smoke detector batteries! Remember: "change your clocks, change your batteries." It is a good idea to use the detectors’ test buttons once a month. A smoke detector that does not work cannot save your life!

Choosing a Smoke Detector
  • Various detectors detect danger in different ways. It is important to understand the major differences when choosing equipment for your home. Ultimately, it is best to buy a smoke detector that combines BOTH ionic detection (detects flames) and photoelectric detection (detects smoke.) If you cannot find a model that has both, purchasing one of each will be just as effective; and don't worry, smoke detectors are inexpensive. Having both types will give you extra time to get to safety.
  • Choose a detector with a test button - check that the batteries are working monthly!
  • Your detector should be fairly easy to clean - dust and paint can render you device ineffective. Put that vacuum attachment to use!
  • Choose a detector that has been tested by a non-commercial lab - Factory Mutual (FM) or Underwriters laboratories (UL) are well-respected names.
  • As with all consumer products, certain "luxury" features you might want to look for include: a hush feature for false alarms (burnt toast) and lithium battery backups for AC-wired models.

Lastly, although they are not often considered for residences, sprinkler systems are a good investment. Not only can they detect and help extinguish fires, they can also increase the value of your home and decrease insurance payments.

If You Are a Victim of Fire Tragedy

For help dealing with the after effects of fire, see the United States Fire Administration’s page entitled “After a Fire." “After a Fire” outlines what to do in the first 24 hours, what to do if you are insured, or if you are not insured and much more.

If you are a victim of fire tragedy, do not hesitate to reach out to our department. Mound firefighters are a compassionate group of individuals with caring personalities and families and stories of their own. We can point you in the right direction and introduce you to people who have been in situations like yours. We stay connected with people in the communities we serve and, also, with surrounding metro fire departments. If you need help, or just someone to listen, please let us know.