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Fires and burns are the third leading cause of injuries in our homes. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that almost 1,300,000 home fires in 2014 resulted in 3,275 deaths and 15,775 injuries. Working smoke detectors in the home could reduce that number drastically. Although everyone wants to be safe in their homes, there always is the potential for something going wrong. Fire and gas probably are the two utilities that can cause the most damage in the shortest amount of time, but there are several things you can do to protect you and your home.
Have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed, and check them regularly to ensure that they are working; most manufacturers recommend weekly testing. Typical locations include just inside or outside of entrances to bedrooms, in hallways leading to bedrooms, on every floor of multi-story buildings, and any other areas where people are likely to fall asleep, such as a family room
with a cozy fireplace and entertainment center. Also consider putting them in the garage and laundry room, and in or near utility closets that enclose furnaces and water heaters. Maybe put one in every room of the house; the more working smoke detectors and alarms you have installed, the greater your chances of being alerted to problems, and escaping.
Combination carbon monoxide / smoke detectors can be used in place of individual alarms and detectors, often at a lower cost. Once you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors installed, be sure to read the user manual so you’ll know how to properly test and clean them.
The NFPA recommends replacing smoke detectors every 10 years to ensure that the alarm is fully functional, and batteries should be replaced every six months. Place alarms and detectors where they can be accessed fairly easily. When units are too high, the batteries often are not replaced, creating periods of non-protection. A good time to replace batteries and clean smoke detectors and alarms is when you reset your clocks in the Fall and Spring. It’s a good idea to have at least two smoke alarms installed to provide backup protection if a dead battery is present in one or if a smoke alarm is defective or fails.
According to the NFPA, most fire fatalities happen in the wee hours of the night between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Most people are sleeping then, so quite possibly the only thing between a deadly fire and a safe escape might be a screeching smoke alarm. Best practices provide for the alarms and smoke detectors to be interconnected so that a problem in one area of the house will notify everyone in all rooms and on all floors.
At least one standard fire extinguisher should be available to keep small fires from becoming large and deadly fires. Consider keeping a small home fire extinguisher in the garage, in the laundry room, and on each floor of multi-story buildings. Make sure everyone knows where they are and how to use them, and have them checked annually to ensure that they will function if needed.
Create an evacuation plan and prearrange a meeting place once everyone is safe outside the home. Have fire escape ladders or other reliable means of escape from an upper floor in case stairs are blocked; do not use elevators. Once you have an evacuation plan, pretend that you are back in first grade practicing fire drills and practice your evacuation. Practice at least monthly.
Keep flashlights in every room and check monthly that they work, replacing batteries or recharging as necessary. Fires tend to be dark because of the smoke, not bright, as might be expected.
Time is critical during fires because they can double in size in less than a minute, and air temperatures can increase several hundred degrees. Breathing excessively hot air can cause severe lung damage, possibly resulting in unconsciousness. Unexpected darkness often results in people becoming trapped in their homes because they could not find a way out in the smoky darkness. Smoke itself can be deadly, and smoke inhalation is a common cause of both human and pet deaths in fires. If you’re breathing smoke, you’re covering your lungs with small particles, preventing them from doing what they do best, absorbing oxygen.◄