How Firesafe Are You?: Follow safety precautions all year long

October is a special month for fire safety. The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Fire Prevention Week occurs this year on October 4-10. Generally, during this period, fire prevention officers would provide fire safety training at local schools, and children would come home smarter about fire safety. They also would be loaded down with fire prevention brochures and home escape plans.

That probably will not happen in October 2020 because most schools are not holding in-person classes. Fire prevention is certainly still important and, this year, it is your responsibility to learn about, teach and practice fire safety in the home.

First and foremost, you should work with your family to establish a basic home fire-escape plan. Drawing a map of each level of the home showing all doors and windows is a good first step and something that children may be able to help with. Teach children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them, and establish a meeting place outside. Teach them to call 9-1-1 and to never return inside for anything, not even pets.

NFPA informs us this year that unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, we are cooking more at home this year than ever.

NFPA outlines several important things to remember about home cooking in its various brochures, including:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you cook, especially when live flames are involved, such as when frying, grilling or boiling food.
  • Don’t leave the house while there is food cooking on the stove or in the oven.
  • Always keep within reach a lid large enough to cover any pan in use. If a grease fire starts, do not attempt to throw anything on the fire. Simply slide the lid over the pan with the fire and turn off the burner. Make sure to leave the cover on the pan until everything has cooled.
  • Because we are dressing more casually now that we are staying home, be careful of loose clothing that can touch stove burners and catch fire. It is important to wear short sleeves or roll up your shirt sleeves while cooking.
  • Establish a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.

The fire safety precautions outlined above should be followed every day, all year long, not just during the fire safety month of October. Fires caused by cooking happen throughout the year, although Thanksgiving is the leading day for these kinds of fires, according to NFPA statistics.

Of course, ECs are thoroughly familiar with smoke alarms and how important they are to fire and life safety. My question is: do you have the appropriate number of smoke alarms installed throughout your own home? Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half, so they should be tested at least once a month to ensure your smoke alarms will work when called on. It’s important to practice what we preach.

As we move toward winter, we will once again need to heat our homes. Statistics show that, during these colder months, heating equipment becomes one of the leading causes of fires. Now is a good time to remind customers of this and offer services to ensure all installed heating equipment is operating properly. As with all advice given to others, make sure your own heating equipment is maintained properly.

A major concern, especially during these difficult, stay-at-home times, is the use of space heaters to augment the installed heating systems in a home. For whatever reason they might be used, all space heaters need space. Advise customers to only use portable space heaters listed by a qualified testing laboratory, especially when buying online. In addition, recommend they keep flammable items at least 3 feet away. As in the kitchen, establish a 3-foot, kid-free zone around open fire and space heaters.

Often when a person buys a space heater, they do not also buy or already have the correct gauge extension cord. Worse, they may run a smaller gauge extension cord under a carpet. You can obviously provide guidance in this area to ensure customers are aware of the fire hazards posed by the improper use of extension cords.

Fire Prevention Week is the perfect impetus for you to offer a fire safety audit of customers’ homes. Start with practicing fire safety yourself, and then share with others why it is so important.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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