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A Complete Guide to Home Fire Prevention and Safety

home fire safety illustration house on fire

kidde_logo_125x125 [1] This post is brought to you by Kidde Worry-Free Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms [1]. Find out more about the Worry-Free’s 10-year battery life here [1].What’s this? [2]

Every year, house fires claim the lives of over 2,500 people and cause around $7 billion in damage. While house fire deaths are dropping (largely due to fire safety awareness), it’s still a number that is far too high for something so often preventable.

When it comes to household fires, heroics don’t start with firefighters, they start at home with you. Keep in mind that when discussing this topic, awareness is not enough. To read the following tips and do nothing is a disservice to your family and home. By taking action with the tips below, you can increase the odds of making sure that a firefighter never has to risk his life running into your burning home, and that if he does, your family will be safe and sound outside.

Fire Safety Equipment

diagram of fire safety equipment in house illustration

Smoke Detectors

Fire alarms are far and away the number one lifesaver when it comes to fires in the home. In fact, two-thirds of all fire deaths occur in homes with either no working smoke alarm, or no alarm period. In many cases, deaths are the result of an alarm not working properly, most often due to issues with the battery (no battery, dead battery, not connected properly).

man on step ladder checking smoke fire alarm illustration

Fire alarms seem like such a small part of your home and get all too easily overlooked, but they’re perhaps the most important pieces of hardware in your abode. Utilizing the following tips will drastically reduce the chances of a deadly fire in your home:

Escape Ladders

If your home has a basement with window wells, or is any higher than just a single story, you’ll want fire escape ladders on hand.

For window wells, they are generally just a basic metal ladder, 4-5 feet tall, that plants in the ground a few inches, and hooks over the well. Have one for each occupied room of a basement.

Ladders for levels that are higher up come with a little more variety. Use the tips below to ensure you get ones that are right for your family:

Fire Extinguishers

Having fire extinguishers in your home and knowing how to use them is a crucial part of your home’s emergency plan. While it can be tempting to use an extinguisher for any fire in your home, you have to be aware of the fact that they should really only be used for fires that are very small and contained — for example in a wastebasket or a small fire in a pot on the stovetop. The number one priority is still the safety of everyone in the home, so if a room begins to quickly fill with smoke, exit the house immediately and don’t try to be the hero.

You should have at least one fire extinguisher on every level of your home. They should be placed in the rooms with the highest probability of a fire — the kitchen especially, and the garage as well. While there are multiple classifications of extinguishers, the variety that are classified as “ABC” will be fine for the majority of homeowners’ needs. We dedicated an entire post last year to using extinguishers [3], so be sure to read up for more information.

While it’s true that using a fire extinguisher isn’t rocket science there are a few basics you need to be aware of – and probably aren’t. According to FEMA, the majority of Americans don’t know how to use an extinguisher, even if they have one in their home. This is a dangerous knowledge gap. Fires double in size every 60 seconds, so you don’t want to be fumbling around in an emergency situation, reading over the instruction manual as a small flame on the stove grows into an inferno:

Escape Plan

home fire escape plan two exits every room

Should a fire break out in your home and the smoke alarm goes off, you need to have a well-rehearsed escape plan. You may have as little as 30 seconds to get out of a burning home, so you can’t waste a single second dawdling around trying to figure out which way to go or where to meet your family. Forty-two percent of homes do not have an escape plan, so if you haven’t done so already, take the time tonight when all your family is together, and create a plan:

  1. Get everyone is the household together. If you can’t do that, make sure the missing parties are trained on what you went over.
  2. Walk through every room of your house and draw a plan as you go.
  3. In your plan, mark where fire extinguishers are and where smoke alarms are.
  4. Come up with two ways to exit every single room. Through a doorway is always preferred; if that’s not an option, windows offer a plan B. Don’t allow regular occupancy in basement rooms without an egress window; otherwise, there is generally only one escape route.
  5. Utilize ladders for basement window wells as well as second (or higher) story rooms.
  6. Teach children how to escape on their own if need be. Have them practice using the escape ladders. Make sure you’re supervising, but this will probably be fun for them to do. Every kid wants a chance to climb out their window.
  7. Designate a meeting place outside your home; just make sure it’s far enough away that it will be a safe spot.
  8. Drill your escape plan twice a year, making it as realistic as possible.
  9. Place your drawn-out plan on the refrigerator as a handy reference. Also point out your plan to any guests you may have that are spending the night at your house. It may seem tedious, but it’s well worth it.

A few other items of note:

Documentation of Valuables & Fireproof Safes

While certainly not as important as protecting your loved ones, documenting your valuables for insurance purposes can save a lot of headache after the fact. Do you want the added stress of trying to mentally calculate what was lost, or do you want to easily assess a spreadsheet of possessions from each room of your home with the monetary value listed?

A few tips for documenting your valuables:

You’ll want to then store all this information in a fireproof safe. Be sure to understand what you want to keep in the safe, because not all models will protect electronic devices (that includes USB drives, CDs, DVDs, etc). For storing anything electronic/digital, you’ll need a model whose internal temperature won’t rise above 125 degrees, versus the more common 350 degrees.

In addition to your documentation of valuables, there are some other important documents you should consider housing in your fireproof safe:

Common Fire Hazards

common fire hazards in home space heater candles illustration diagram

1) Space Heater 2) Congested Outlet 3) Microwave 4) Frying Pan 5) Oven 6) Cooking Oil 7) Candles 8) Barbecue 9) Smoking 10) Christmas Tree 11) Washer & Dryer 12) Gasoline Container 13) Furnace

Over three-quarters of all home fires come from the following common hazards. Knowing what these hazards are and how to best prevent them will go a long way towards protecting your family and your home.

Cooking. Cooking leads to more house fires than any other single source. This includes microwaves, using cooking oil, using fryers, etc. — but by far the greatest factor in kitchen fires is simply unattended cooking.

Heating equipment. This includes your furnace, fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, etc.

Smoking accidents. The number one cause of home fire deaths. Luckily, this hazard comes with a very simple solution: never smoke indoors (or better yet, never smoke period). When you’re finished smoking, be sure the embers are completely out in the ashtray, and preferably run under water. If you absolutely must smoke indoors:

Electrical equipment. This includes electric appliances, lighting, outlets, and wiring.

Candles. Are often seen as the number one fire hazard (they aren’t), but with a few small measures, you can nearly eliminate the chance of a home fire happening from a candle.

Accidents involving children. We’ve all been there: kids love fire. Combine that with their insatiable curiosity, and you have a potential disaster on your hands. Heed the following tips to make sure your kids stay safe:

Flammable liquids. This would include gasoline, cleaning agents, paints, adhesives, etc. Vapors can ignite from high temperatures, or small sparks from static electricity or other sources. Don’t store these flammables near a heating source, but preferably outside the home in a cool, ventilated area.

Christmas trees/decorations. Decorating for the holidays accounts for hundreds of house fires each year. It’s easy to think of just how nice everything looks without realizing its potential hazard.

Grilling. ESPN anchor Hannah Storm’s accident last year [5] brought grilling safety to the forefront of people’s minds. If done properly, grilling is perfectly safe, but without thought or care it can turn dangerous very quickly.

Clothes dryers. Seeing as how lint is a fantastic firestarter, it makes sense that an ill-maintained dryer could pose a serious threat.

Many of these tips are common sense, and yet when we have other things on our mind (especially at dinnertime, around the holidays, etc.), we can lose track of those basic precautions we’re normally on top of. You can never play it too safe with fire prevention. The most valuable things in the world — our home and families — depend on it.