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The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) just released reports focusing on the causes and characteristics of fires in residential buildings. USFA has a National Fire Data Center that tracks and assimilates information on fires across the nation. USFA reports an estimated 361,900 fires in residential buildings occur each year in the United States. Annually, these fires are responsible for 2,600 civilian fire deaths, 12,575 civilian fire injuries, and 6.4 billion dollars in property loss.
Believe it or not, cooking is the leading cause of these fires, followed by heating. Fires peak during the cold winter months as people try to heat their homes. Also, fire frequency generally peaks during mealtimes. Even if no one is injured, a fire in your home can be a tragic, life-changing event. There are many things you can do to prevent fires and most of them don’t cost a dime. Start off by being cautious. Be careful with combustibles around your cooking area or fireplace. Kitchen towels, boxes of food, newspapers, and even potholders left on a stove top are very dangerous. Lots of cooking fires are caused by hot oil. Any time you cook with oil, keep the lid for your pan or fryer handy. In the event of an oil fire, simply putting a lid on the pot will snuff out the flames. NEVER put water on an oil fire – the results are explosive and deadly.
When cold weather hits and you use your fireplace, woodstove, or portable space heater, extra caution is in order. Have your chimney professionally cleaned to prevent creosote build-up that can lead to a fire. Keep combustibles (especially pillows, blankets, and papers) away from space heaters. Fall is a good time to plan ahead and ensure everything (including your furnace) is in good working order – before the really cold weather hits.
A small, inexpensive fire extinguisher can save your life. Mount it near an exit in an easy to grab spot. After you call 9-1-1, you may be able to keep a small fire in check until firefighters arrive. NEVER try to fight a large fire, even with a big fire extinguisher. Many people have been killed trying to do this – leave big fires to the professionals. Always call 911 if you have a fire, and even if you think you have extinguished it yourself, do not cancel the emergency call, let the firefighters make sure it is out!
Here’s probably the most important thing you can learn from reading this week’s safety blog: Working smoke detectors save lives. It is imperative that you have a smoke detector on every floor of your home and preferably near every sleeping area. Check them regularly by pressing the test button. NEVER remove the batteries. New smoke detectors have a ‘hush’ feature that overrides the alarm for a few minutes if you happen to burn toast or light too much incense.
Lastly – have a fire plan for your family. Know what to do when the smoke detector alarms. Teach everyone to get out of the house in a hurry and have a designated meeting place so you can be sure everyone is out safely if there is a fire. Also, everyone (especially kids) should be instructed how to call 911 in an emergency.
Every year 15,000 Americans become fire casualties. With a little education and common sense, we can lower that number. Keep your home a safe place for you and your family, live long and prosper.
Until next time – Be Safe!
Click on the links below to read Safety Chief Bancroft's previous Firefighter Safety Blogs:
Portland Fire & Rescue We Respond: Always Ready, Always There
August 10, 2010