Fire safety is a huge problem in the US, with one of the highest rates of death and injury due to fires of any country. In fact, fire — both flames and smoke — is the second leading cause of accidental death in American homes with more than 4,000 deaths each year due to home fires.
There are more than 500,000 residential fires reported each year and more than 90 percent of the deaths related to these residential fires occur in single and two family houses. Property losses exceed 4 billion dollars each year but the bigger loss is the emotional impact to victims and their families.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has focused on those products which cause the most fires and loss of life. While cigarettes remain legal, since 1980 there has been a push to make extensive use of smoke detectors and the number of residential fires has dropped 30 percent. Many products including home heating appliances, furniture, bedding and clothing must now meet fire safety standards.
Checklist to Review Potential Fire Safety Issues at Home
While products become safer, there is much more we can do to prevent fires. “Fire experts agree that one key to fewer fires is a greater awareness of how accidents can be prevented. By spotting hazards and taking simple precautions, many fires and fire-related injuries can be prevented.” Here's a checklist to see if you need to conduct a more comprehensive fire safety assessment for your home. Alternatively you can jump right over to the complete Fire Safety Home Checklist, on the CPSC website.
Remember safety reflects both your home and the actions of occupants, i.e. smoke detectors may signal a fire but can't prevent a fire from starting.
Supplemental heating sources – Space heaters should only be used to supplement your primary heat source. supplemental heaters include wood stoves, kerosene heaters, gas-fired space heaters and portable electric space heaters. The CPSC estimates that half the deaths resulting from fires caused by electric heaters occurred at night while unattended as people were sleeping.
- Have they been installed properly, meaning you've followed local building codes and manufacturer's instructions? This should include placement on a non-combustible floor following of a specified size and at least 3 feet from anything that can catch fire like furniture, curtains and clothing.
- Are your products approved by your local fire department? Do they meet safety standards like UL approval. Minimize use of extension cords for electric heaters (use #14 or #12 American Wire Gauge) and check periodically for frayed wires, damaged insulation or hot plugs and repair immediately. Unless designated for use outdoors or in bathrooms, do not use in damp or wet areas.
- Do you have a professional chimney sweep clean your chimney regularly? Do you inspect and clean the chimney and stovepipe regularly during the heating season and clean when necessary?
- Are you using the correct fuel and storing it in a safe place, safe from access by children? Firewood should be stored at least 3 feet away from a stove. Kerosene heaters should always be refilled outdoors to prevent spillage.
- With portable heaters like kerosene heaters, are they placed away from high traffic areas like doorways and hallways? Is the heater sitting on a flat, level surface?
- Have you determined there is adequate ventilation for your supplemental heating sources to prevent indoor air pollution and minimize health problems. Unvented heaters have the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning so they should never be used in bedrooms.
- Do you have rules for proper use of your supplemental heaters? These should include how to start them … and turn them off in an emergency, when they should be turned off (while sleeping or out of the house) and how to move them safely (never while being used).
- Does everyone know how to turn off a heater if there is an emergency like a flare-up? Is the fire department phone number posted where everyone can find it easily?
Cooking Equipment – There are more than 100,000 fires each year resulting from cooking equipment, both gas and electric. While these appliances meet stringent standards, it is our use that results in most fires. Here are tips on what to avoid around cooking equipment, especially while cooking.
- Keep storage areas around the stove free of flammable and combustible items.
- Never store items that children will search for, i.e. candy and cookies, above or near the stove.
- Do not wear anything loose while cooking – tie back sleeves if necessary. Don't reach across burners that are cooking and don't place pot holders or plastic utensils near the stove.
- Never leave the stove unattended when cooking, and especially with a burner on high.
DO NOT SMOKE! Do Not Smoke in Bed.
Materials that Burn – Many materials in your home like furniture, draperies, bedding and clothing, will burn if ignited so it's important to address this point when making purchases for the home. There are also precautions you can take to reduce the risk of fires like checking for unextinguished cigarettes after a party. Below is a list of items in your home most susceptible to burning, along with tips to reduce unwanted fires.
- Look for furniture designed to resist ignition by cigarettes. Fabrics made from thermo-plastic fibers (nylon, polyester, acrylic, olefin) are more resistant to burning cigarettes than cellulosic fabrics (rayon or cotton), and the more thermoplastic content, the better the resistance. Gold tags from the Upholstered Furniture Action Council's (UFAC) Voluntary Action Program help identify products more resistant to ignition by cigarettes.
- Mattresses manufactured since 1973 are required to resist cigarette ignition, so consider replacing your mattress if you are a smoker. Keep heaters at least 3 feet from the bed to prevent accidental fires.
- Pick clothing made from fabrics that are less prone to burning. Fabrics that are difficult to ignite and tend to extinguish themselves include 100% polyester, nylon, wool and silk. In contrast fabrics containing cotton, cotton/polyester blends, rayon, and acrylic ignite easily and burn rapidly. Tight weaves, knits and fabrics without a fuzzy/napped surface ignite less and burn rapidly versus open knits/weaves and fabrics with brushed/piled surfaces.
- Buy clothing that can be removed easily if there is a fire, to prevent serious burns. For children purchase clothing, and especially sleepwear that is flame resistant. Seniors are also more likely to suffer burns and should look for fire resistant nighttime clothing. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to maintain flame resistant properties.