House fires: America’s biggest disaster threat
House fires are “America’s biggest disaster threat,” according to the American Red Cross. With cooler weather, furnaces, heaters and candles are back in use, just in time for Fire Prevention Month.
You may only have two minutes—just 120 seconds—to escape a house fire. Here are three basics to help you make it out alive, from of the American Red Cross.
1. BE ALARMED–BE VERY ALARMED
If you’re asleep when a fire starts, the smoke’s carbon monoxide could render you unconscious before you wake up. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms save lives, but only with working batteries and regular maintenance.
Think of the smoke alarms in your home. How many do you count, and when did you check them?
INSTALL smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
TEST smoke alarms monthly. Change batteries yearly or when they’re not working.
REPLACE smoke alarms every 10 years—just like yogurt, every alarm has an expiration date.
TOP TIP: Vacuum your smoke alarms—dust can render alarms ineffective.
For detailed information, download the American Red Cross’ Fire Smoke Alarm Fact Sheet.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms
This odorless, colorless, invisible gas is released when a fuel source burns incompletely. Poisoning occurs when someone is exposed to a small amount of CO over a long period of time, or by a large amount of CO over a short period of time.
INSTALL CO alarms anywhere a person is likely to fall asleep and near furnaces, wood stoves and fireplaces.
NEVER use a CO alarm in place of a smoke alarm. Use both.
TEST CO alarms every month.
KNOW SYMPTOMS of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.
For detailed information, download the American Red Cross’ Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.
2. EXTINGUISH THE BURN
A small fire extinguisher makes a huge difference. Keeping one in the kitchen and one next to any fuel-burning sources is a good start. An extinguisher rated “A-B-C” is recommended for home use—some are rechargeable, some are one-time use.
Before you fight a fire with a fire extinguisher, be sure:
- Everyone has left or is leaving the home.
- The fire department has been called.
- The fire is small and not spreading.
- Your back is to an exit you can use quickly.
- There is not much smoke in the room.
If you try to use a fire extinguisher on a fire and the fire does not immediately die down, drop the extinguisher and get out! Most portable extinguishers empty in eight seconds.
For detailed information, visit the American Red Cross’ Fire Safety Equipment page.
3. MAKE AN ESCAPE PLAN—INCLUDING PETS
Knowing two ways out of any room could save your life. Escaping a house fire in 120 seconds or less is the goal. Sketch out an escape plan—don’t forget a meeting area—and practice!
Determine two ways out of every room. Identify your home’s fire-escape obstacles, such as second- or third-story windows, inoperable windows and the like. Then solve those obstacles by purchasing a fire escape ladder, razor-blading open windows that are painted shut, or even placing a towel, a brick and a stepladder next to inoperable windows.
Sketch out a home escape plan, including a meeting area. Bring your household together, go over two escape routes in each room, then practice escaping. This includes how to use any peripheral escape devices, such as ladders.
Then, at the predetermined meeting area, review your escape time. In case of a real fire, call 911 as soon as you’re safely out of the home. And no matter what, never go back in to retrieve pets or objects.
For detailed information and a template, download the American Red Cross’ Home Fire Escape Plan.
Pet Fire Safety
UPDATE COLLARS—indoor-only animals, too—with your phone number, address, vet and other critical information to reunite lost pets with owners. Microchipping is even better.
PET-ALERT CLINGS on your home’s front window alerts first responders. Write in the number of pets inside your house, and keep it updated.
For detailed information, visit the American Red Cross’ Pet Fire Safety page.
Finally, consider the following:
- Keep a pair of shoes next to your bed.
- Keep important documents in a fire-safe box or in a safe-deposit box.
- Renters, have renter’s insurance—Your landlord’s insurance covers their house, not your stuff.
Do you have a tip for keeping yourself, people or pets safe in the event of a fire? Let us know in a comment below.
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