25 Jul Home Fire Safety Tips You May Never Have Thought Of
Here I am with my handsome fireman husband Rick from Point Edward Fire and Rescue. I have all kinds of questions for him on how to keep our homes safe and what to do in case of a fire!
Our furnace put off a little smoke a couple years back and set off all of our smoke alarms and of course he wasn’t home at the time. I was a little frazzled at first because I didn’t know what was going on. But because we had a plan, I was able to do exactly what was supposed to be done.
Here is an everyday example – You are cooking on the stove, a neighbour knocks on the door and has some great news to share. You show your guest in and have a little visit in the living room. The next thing you know, your smoke detector is going off – you have a small grease fire in your kitchen. It is so easy to panic. You immediately remember the bacon is still cooking on the stove – unattended! Did you leave the lid by the stove to put out the fire? Should you use the fire extinguisher that is in the closet? Do you remember how to use it? How do you and your neighbour get outside to safety if the fire is too big for you to put out? Where is your dog? There are so many questions running through your mind all at once and the alarm is squealing, you can’t even think straight! You think back, what did they teach you in Girl Guides and Boy Scouts – you need to BE PREPARED!
Give yourself a refresher on fire safety 101. It only takes minutes but you’ll be prepared if something were to happen.
Put it in your calendar when the time changes – in March and November. When you get your new calendar at the beginning of the year and put in birthdays that you don’t want to forget, be sure to add fire safety to your calendar. Check your smoke detectors or have someone check them for you. Review your plan – how to put out a small fire, how to escape and what are the important rules when it comes to fire safety. It only takes a couple of minutes, 2 times a year just to remind yourself what you should do. You’ll be prepared and less panicked because you’ll know all the answers to the questions that are running through your mind!
Rick is the Deputy Chief at Point Edward Fire and Rescue and he is here to answer some really important questions about fire safety in your home.
Is there a reason why fire safety is especially important for seniors?
First of all Carla, thank you for taking an interest in fire safety for one of your blog topics. Fire safety is an important topic for all ages; that is one of the reasons we start talking about fire safety with children as early as junior kindergarten. As far as seniors or older adults are concerned the statistics are quite alarming. Over the last 10 year period, older adults 60 years + are at a far higher risk of dying in a residential fire than other age groups. In fact, people ages 60 and over have accounted for 49% of the residential fire deaths in the province in the last 10 year study.
Who is responsible for and makes recommendations on tips and education in our area?
All of us at Point Edward Fire have a responsibility to the public for making recommendations and offer tips and education to the public, but typically myself or the Chief will organize the educational material. Delivery of the material could be done by myself, the Chief or our emergency manager who is also a firefighter on our department. There are lots of times where we rely on our dedicated staff of volunteers to assist in the delivery of public educational material as well. It’s a team effort.
Smoking – Smoking! What can I say about smoking!! It is still one of the number one causes of residential fires in North America! Don’t smoke in bed! Don’t Smoke when you are tired! Don’t smoke when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol! And, don’t butt your cigarettes out in planted pots outside your house door! We have had a surge of home fires that started on the exterior of homes because people had butted their cigarettes out in a potted plant or planter thinking it was a safe place to do so but in fact, the material in commercially purchased planter pots has a material that may allow the butt to smoulder for a period of time and then will support combustion allowing a fire to start. So don’t butt your cigarettes in these pots, use a can with some water.
Cooking – Again cooking is another leading cause of home fires, especially unattended cooking. Never leave a stove unattended. Time after time people get distracted by one thing or another and leave the pot on the stove unattended and forget about it. Sometimes it’s too late and a fire has started. If you are prepared you may be able to deal with it but, a lot of times it’s too late and the fire has become too large for you to deal with. Long story short, never leave the stove unattended. Prepare yourself before something happens – have pot lids handy that fit the pot or frying pan you are using and use these to smother the fire if a small fire occurs. Remember to remove the pot from the hot burner if possible and turn off the heat source, this will help reduce the amount of fire. Have a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it and never throw water on a grease fire! This is the absolute worst thing you can do! The water and hot grease create a violent reaction and will produce an ever larger fire. If the fire is too big, leave the home, close the door behind you and call 911.
Electric outlets, cords and fixtures – We always tell people – Don’t overload the circuit! If you are going to run more than two plugs from an outlet, which is not advisable, make sure you are using a good quality power bar with a built-in circuit breaker. Never run extension cords under carpet or an area that has high foot traffic, walking on an extension cord will break the outer layer down over time and expose the wires inside creating a fire hazard. Extension cords are meant for TEMPORARY use and not designed to be used as a permanent wiring solution. If you need this then call a certified electrician and have another plug or circuit added.
Space heaters, gas fireplaces and natural fires – Space heaters have improved a lot over the years. If you need to use space heaters make sure you have sufficient power available to run them and not overload the electrical system in your home or building. Make sure you have a safe zone set up around them and don’t allow any combustible material to be stored on or near the units, at least 1 metre or 3 feet away from the heaters. Buy heaters that have tip over protection and overheat protection built in and never plug them into an extension cord, always directly into the wall socket. Also keep children and animals away from space heaters.
With respect to fireplaces, let’s start with gas inserts. They are nice to look at, clean, no wood messes but like any other heating appliance they need to be serviced and looked after by a certified heating contractor. Any gas appliance including a gas fireplace if not running properly can produce Carbon Monoxide – a colorless, odorless, tasteless by-product of incomplete combustion that can and will make you very sick and even kill you if not detected. That is why it is so important that every home has working CO detectors on every level that has sleeping accommodations in your home. The Law states that you need to have working CO alarms on every level that has an area for sleeping, the only exception is if you do not have any fuel fire appliances and do not have an attached garage. CO alarms need to be tested monthly just like the smoke alarms you have in your home. The older CO units had a 5-7 year life expectancy, the newer units had a 10 year life expectancy similar to smoke alarms. If it’s time for you to change your devices you may want to look at the combo smoke and CO units, they can be a good choice if your devices are coming towards the end of their life expectancy at a similar time.
As far as natural fireplaces go, a clean chimney is a must, and having the proper clearances around your fireplace or wood stove are extremely important. Not burning green wood is advised, it can create a buildup of material in the chimney which over time can create a fire hazard. Also, having a fire rated screen to prevent sparks from leaving the fireplace and landing on the flooring in front of the fireplace is a must have.
What other fire hazards are there in a home?
We have touched on a few already but here are a few more. People love stuff and lots of it, we find a large number of people are short on storage and find themselves storing large amounts of combustible materials on or around hot water tanks and furnaces, this is a big no-no. These items need at least 1metre of clear space around them. We also find people store combustible materials in front of their hydro panels, again we need to leave a safe zone in front of these panels. If you have a failure or arc flash of some type then the combustible material in front of the panel could ignite. Also, improper storage of flammable materials like gasoline and oils should not be stored in a home. They should be stored in a metal cabinet in the shed or garage and the other thing we see a lot of is propane tanks stored indoors, not the best place, stored outside in a safe place is best.
BBQ – we love to barbecue! But having your BBQ inches away from your plastic siding is definitely not the smart choice. Make sure you have a good safety zone around the BBQ and don’t have it near any combustible materials. Another fire hazard I would like to mention is candles, to be honest I’m not a fan just ask my wife, but if you are a fan than be smart about it! First make sure you have a proper non-combustible base under the candle, secondly make sure you don’t leave the candle unattended, blow it out before leaving the room and watch your animals – dog and cat tails can easily knock over a candle causing a fire.
What is the importance of having smoke alarms and having an escape plan? Why is it especially important for seniors?
To be totally honest with you, if you don’t have working smoke alarms in your home the chances of surviving a house fire is low. Smoke alarms are your first line of defence especially when you are sleeping. The numbers don’t lie, people with working smoke alarms survive house fires and people without don’t. My advice to everyone is to make sure you have working smoke alarms that are less than 10 years old on every level of your home and outside your sleeping areas. If you sleep with your bedroom door closed, then make sure you put one inside that bedroom. Test them monthly and change the battery annually at a minimum. Also, make sure you have working Carbon Monoxide detectors on every level that you sleep on, place them outside the sleeping area and not behind furniture if possible. With respect to having an escape plan we teach this from JK and up, it is so very important that you have a plan and practice it because in an emergency, people panic! But if you have a plan and have practiced it, you will perform better. It also teaches us to gather at a certain place, if everyone in the home goes to that same place it puts people at ease knowing that all members of the home are out and accounted for. This information assists us at the fire department on what type of tactics we may need to use. Seniors or older adults may need extra time to exit a building, so having working smoke alarms and a well-practiced plan will assist them with the extra time they may need to escape. One other point here is the Stop Drop and Roll, you may think this is for kids but it is for everyone! If your clothes catch fire do not run! Stop where you are, drop to the ground and roll back and forth using your hands to cover your face. If you end up with burns to the skin seek medical attention as soon as possible.
How does Point Edward Fire get this information to the public? Recourses? How can the public reach out to get more information?
We have a number of ways we get material and messages out to the public. Pre pandemic it was a lot easier, we did open houses, door to door flyers, seniors fairs, school visits etc. Since the pandemic we have gone online with our education utilizing platforms like zoom and google meets to talk to people. We have also delivered fire safety flyers to the homes in our area and we put fire safety information in our quarterly water bills that the municipality sends out. We also utilize social media to help push out our message.
Hopefully the information is somewhat helpful to you. If anyone wants additional information they can contact the Point Edward Fire Hall at 519-337-9911 or the Sarnia Fire Department at 519-332-1212 and either one of us would be glad to give you any additional information or answer any questions you may have.
Thank you so much Rick for your time answering these questions!
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