Keeping the family safe is the highest priority in nearly every household. Practicing and planning fire safety is critical to ensuring your family’s security. Although many home fires are preventable, fires often occur without warning, under circumstances individuals are unable to control. However, you can take measures to reduce the risks of a fire at home. Below are some tips to help keep yourself, your home, and the members of your family safer.
If you have suffered injuries in a home fire, or you lost a loved one to this type of accident, contact an experienced New York personal injury accident attorney from Jacoby & Meyers, LLP to learn more information about the legal process.
Tip #1: Install your smoke alarms in the right places.
While smoke detectors may be small and seemingly insignificant, they are the most important device for at-home fire safety. Simply installing smoke alarms in your home, however, may not provide adequate protection. To ensure smoke alarms provide sufficient warning, it is critically important to install the devices in proper locations throughout your home. For example, a single smoke alarm located in the middle level of a home will not detect a fire that starts in the basement until the damage is severe.
Every household should have smoke alarms installed:
- On every floor of the home, including the basement;
- Inside every bedroom and outside every sleeping area;
- In the kitchen and any other rooms with major appliances; and
- Inside the garage.
Ideally, smoke alarm batteries should be replaced every six months. When an alarm alerts that the battery life is fading, change the batteries immediately. Regularly changing alarm batteries will reduce the risk of forgetting to replace them and decrease the chances of alarm failure when it is needed most.
Tip #2: Talk to your kids about what to do during a fire.
Depending on the circumstances, occupants inside a burning home may have as little as 30 seconds to safely escape. Every family should create a comprehensive fire escape plan, and children should be taught exactly what to do in the event of a fire. Children typically receive some fire education at school; however, it is equally important to practice an exit strategy in the home. A comprehensive plan will include two ways to exit every room. Families should teach children how to determine whether an exit is safe and provide a plan for how to proceed should they discover it is dangerous.
Create an emergency plan and practice and review it regularly. Every emergency plan should:
- Remind kids to check doors before opening them. Children should be aware that they must determine whether an exit is safe before opening a door. Remind kids to check the temperature of the doorknob and door itself before proceeding through. If they notice a hot door, the fire escape plan should provide a plan B. Children should be trained to utilize the windows if they are able, or instructed to stay in the room until help arrives.
- Discuss how to open the window, if necessary. If your kids have rooms on the ground floor of your home, teach them how to open the window and exit the home in the event of a fire. If they have rooms on an upper story, older kids may be able to operate a fire escape ladder. Younger kids should be reminded to wait until firemen arrive to try to exit through the window.
- Explain the details of the family’s emergency plan. Everyone in the household should meet to discuss the emergency plan and walk through the details together. Families should designate a place to meet outside the home that is a safe distance from any potential danger. If you have trusted neighbors, you may want to send the kids straight to their house if there is an emergency.
- Remind children not to go back into the home for any reason. Kids must know that they should not reenter the house under any circumstances, including to rescue toys, pets, or other family members. Instead, encourage them to wait safely outside for adults and allow firemen to safely retrieve any siblings, animals, or objects left in the home.
Draw out your family’s emergency plan and review the plan with your children. You may even want to practice it a few times so that kids will know exactly what to do during a fire. While you cannot protect children against every possible emergency, providing basic fire preparation could help save their lives in an emergency.
Tip #3: Service your chimneys and fireplaces.
To help decrease the risk of fires, make sure that you service chimneys and fireplaces annually. Improper maintenance of fireplaces is the leading cause of home fires related to heating. Without proper maintenance, chimney fires can quickly spread to the rest of your home. You may want to schedule your service in the fall or at the end of the cold season to ensure safe operation throughout winter.
Tip #4: Keep grills, smokers, and other outdoor cooking devices three feet or more away from the house.
Many people love the freedom and extra flavor associated with cooking outdoors. Not only do you have the chance to enjoy the great weather outside, cooking over an open flame provides a finish that cannot be accomplished on the stovetop. Cooking outside brings friends and families together and adds an element of excitement to preparing meals.
Outdoor cooking, however, can be extremely hazardous if grills and smokers are placed too close to the home. Make sure that you position all cooking devices, especially grills and smokers, a least three feet away from the house or any attached structures. This simple safety measure can prevent sparks or excess heat from igniting a fire within your home.
Tip #5: Make sure elderly and disabled people in your home have access to exits in case of a fire.
Most individuals in your home may simply slip out a window or take an alternative exit during a fire. However, if you share your home with elderly or disabled family members, escape during a fire may be much more difficult.
To ensure the safety of every member of the household, a fire escape plan should accommodate the needs of elderly or disabled individuals.
- Clearly label the windows that belong to elderly or disabled family members. Just as you should be inclined to identify a child’s room, the windows of elderly and disabled family members should be clearly labeled. Those individuals may require additional assistance when exiting the home during an emergency. Labeling their location for emergency responders can decrease the amount of time it takes to provide them the assistance they need.
- Check the exits to your home. The average home must have multiple exits to increase fire safety. Some of those exits may not be able to accommodate an elderly or disabled family member. Consider installing a wheelchair ramp for at least one secondary exit to your home to help provide an additional level of safety.
- Consider what disabled family members may need to make it out of the house. Make sure that wheelchairs, walkers, or other assistive devices remain accessible, even at night.
Tip #6: Create digital backups of important documents.
Today’s highly digital society makes it easier than ever for you to keep track of important documents. Copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, or social security cards typically do not qualify as official documents. However, copies are instrumental in the process of replacing original documents that may have been lost or destroyed. may use those copies to help get new versions of the physical documents. Digital copies can also serve as proof of your identity in the event that all other forms of identification are lost in a home fire.
In the past, advice instructed households to store important documents in a fireproof box or safe. In many cases, however, the temperature of a home fire exceeds the temperatures these devices are designed to protect against. Having a digital copy of important documents can provide invaluable protection in the event of a fire.
Tip #7: Close bedroom doors at night.
Many families, especially those with small children, may wonder whether they should leave bedroom doors open or closed at night. If you have small children, you want to hear them if they get sick at night or if they have a nightmare and call out. If you want to practice fire safety, however, you should close bedroom doors every night. Closed doors can provide a barrier from both smoke and flames, providing additional safety to the members of your family. Developing a habit of closing bedroom doors at night could save lives in the event of a fire.
Tip #8: Always stay in the kitchen while cooking.
Home life with children can be chaotic and busy families may struggle to pay full attention to the stove while cooking. Stepping away for even a moment, however, can create substantial risk. While you can safely walk away from baking on the oven, any time you use your stove top, you should remain in the kitchen. Frying, in particular, could cause hot oil to scatter from the pan and start a fire.
Also, kitchen objects may easily fall into an unprotected pot or pan, causing significant fire risk. If you stay in the kitchen while cooking, you can quickly correct any mishaps before they cause extensive damage. On the other hand, if the stove is left unattended, you may fail to notice the danger until a fire has started.
Tip #9: Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
Having a fire extinguisher in your home ensures that you can quickly put out small fires while they are still controllable. Grease fires, in particular, should never be doused with water when attempting to extinguish the fire. In fact, adding water to a grease fire can cause the fire to spread, increasing the danger and causing additional damage. A fire extinguisher can quickly smother small kitchen fires to prevent them from growing. Make sure you inspect your fire extinguisher annually and replace it when it expires.
Tip #10: Replace outdated appliances, rather than continuing to use them.
If you notice your electrical appliances operating oddly or responding differently than usual, you should replace them immediately. Carefully inspect the wires and cords of large appliances on a regular basis. If they begin to look frayed or you notice any damage, replace the appliance or have the cord replaced professionally as soon as possible. Continuing to use outdated or damaged appliances could pose a substantial fire hazard in your home.
Tip #11: Avoid overloading your electrical outlets.
Every member of your household likely uses a variety of personal electronic devices. Almost all personal electronic devices require periodic charging through an electrical outlet. Surge protectors and extension cords can help make your outlets more useful and provide you with more charging ports for your devices. At the same time, however, you should always avoid overloading your outlets. Never install more than one surge protector in a circuit. If you need additional outlets in your home, contact an electrician and ask them to help you install them properly.
Tip #12: Do not leave portable space heaters unattended.
While portable space heaters can help warm up your space during the cold winter months, you should never leave them unattended. If a space heater happens to be knocked over, nearby items or the floor could easily catch on fire. In addition, if the circuit powering the heater is overloaded, the device’s wiring may become hot and potentially cause a fire. When using a space heater, be sure to turn it off if you leave the room where it is located. You should also turn the space heater off overnight, when you cannot observe it properly.
Tip #13: Pay attention to children’s sleepwear.
Children’s sleepwear, in particular, should fit closely to help reduce the risk of fires. You should also choose sleepwear made from flame-retardant fabric for your child. Children’s sleepwear made from flammable fabrics can substantially worsen burns should a house fire occur overnight.
Tip #14: If a fire occurs in your home, leave the house immediately and stay out.
No object or possession inside your home is worth the risk of reentering a house that is on fire. Put simply, objects and possessions, despite their sentimental value, are replaceable. You cannot replace your life or that of your family members. Avoid going back into the home for any reason until the fire department confirms it is safe to return. You may need to closely supervise elderly family members and children to ensure that they remain safely out of the home during a fire.
No family wants to anticipate that their home may catch on fire. With these steps, however, you can prepare, plan, and help keep your family safer. Not only can you prevent potential fires, you can rest assured your family will know what to do should one occur. Keep an open dialogue with your family members about your emergency escape plan. Make sure everyone knows where to meet, what to do, and how to exit your home safely.