Another common cause of deadly house fires is faulty wiring, and overloaded circuits. As we’ve mentioned before, the wiring in kitchens and bathrooms should include ground fault circuit interrupters, and bedrooms should be wired with arc fault circuit interrupters. You’ll want to check for these when buying a house. Old and worn out wiring is dangerous, and if your house is a few decades old, you should have its electrical system inspected.
It may need to be upgraded or replaced. If you’re worried about being cheated by an unethical contractor who recommends work that isn’t necessary, talk to friends and relatives, and have them recommend some reliable electricians you can trust. Don’t ignore it for fear of being ripped off. And no matter what condition the electrical system is in, if not used properly, it can cause a fire. A major source of problems is light bulbs. Many people never give the wattage much thought. Some people feel that if a light’s not bright enough, they can just use a higher wattage bulb in the socket and solve the problem. That’s not a good idea. Every light bulb socket should have the maximum wattage allowed labeled on it, and you should follow the guidelines. Seventy five and one hundred watt bulbs in sockets meant for sixty watt bulbs can, and do cause fires. It’s fine to use a lower wattage bulb than is recommended, but for safety’s sake, never exceed the maximum light bulb wattage on the socket.
Overloaded circuits are another big home safety problem. It’s easy to hook up too many appliances to too little electricity to do the job, but it’s also dangerous. You should always be aware of the power load of all the appliances hooked up to one circuit, and never exceed the capacity. Multi-outlet adapters have their place in homes, but only when used properly. They should never be used for appliances that require a lot of power.
If you’re constantly having trouble with the lights dimming, or fuses blowing, you’ve got a safety problem that needs fixing. Either the wiring is bad, or a circuit is overloaded somewhere. Don’t allow this situation to persist; investigate it and fix it. The same thing goes for extension cords. If they’re too flimsy for the job, you’re asking for trouble. You should never use an extension cord outside unless it was specifically designed and sold to be used outdoors. Any electrical appliances or devices that are malfunctioning or making strange noises should not be used, but repaired or discarded. If you ever do encounter an electrical fire, and the fire is small enough, unplug the device or appliance if possible. Then douse it with a fire extinguisher designed for electrical fires. If you don’t have one, or the fire is too big, get out of the house and call the fire department. You should never throw water on an electrical fire – you run a good risk of electrocution by doing so. Treat your electrical appliances and wiring with respect. Keep them well maintained, and adhere to power limits, and you’ll go along way toward making your home safe from fire hazards.
Explaining Fire Safety Rules to Children
Besides keeping lighters and matches away from children, what else can you do to instill the concepts of fire safety in them? There are lots of things. If they know what matches and lighters are, lay down the law to them that they must never, under any circumstances, use them or play with them.
If they should happen to find them, they should bring them directly to you. If your child ever does bring them to you, make sure to praise them profusely, and make it clear how proud you are of them. You should also make it clear to them in just the same way that if they find any of their friends, or any other children, playing with matches or lighters, that they’re to come straight to you or the nearest adult and let them know. Stress that doing so doesn’t make them a tattletale, but a child who’s growing up. For most children, this isn’t a problem. But you may need to explain to younger children just how much damage fire can do, and that it can make their house and toys go away, and hurt them and their family very badly.
Tell them that even though a small lighter flame doesn’t look very big, it can get very big very fast. There’s no need to go into gory detail, but get it into their little heads that fire is a very, very dangerous thing. Almost all of them can grasp the idea and take it to heart. You’ll also want to explain other fire safety rules to them. Explain that they should never play with electrical cords, or outlets, or try to stick things into the outlets. They’ll need to know that the stove and oven are off limits to little people, and that playing with the stove or oven is just as dangerous as playing with matches or lighters. Explain to them how fires can start in different ways, and they should never put things on top of anything hot, like a lamp or a space heater. Most kids are pretty sharp, and they’ll understand if you take time to explain the rules about fire safety. That’s all it takes – talking to your kids about fire and its dangers, making sure they know the rules, and keeping lighters and matches away from them.
The Importance of Fire Drills and Escape Plans
Next, let’s talk about fire drills and escape plans. If it’s 3 AM, and your smoke detector goes off, will you know what to do? Will the rest of your family know what to do? When a fire starts, experts say you’ve got one to two minutes to get out of the house to safety. Could you and all of your family do that? Especially considering that the house is likely to be filled with thick, black, unbearable smoke? Most deaths in fires aren’t from the flames, but from smoke inhalation.
Would every one of you be able to think clearly and quickly, and figure out the best course of action for themselves? It’s very unlikely. Everyone is likely to be panicking and screaming and wondering what to do, unless you’ve prepared your family well ahead of time for this situation. They’re going to be screaming and panicking anyway, but if you’ve planned for what to do in a fire, they won’t have to improvise and start thinking for themselves. They can just do what you’ve practiced. Having an escape plan is a fundamental part of home fire safety. So are regular fire drills. They can mean the difference between life and death. Creating an escape plan is the first step. Every room should have two possible exits, the door to the hallway, and a window. If the house is on fire, and the room is on the first floor, the window should be the first choice, unless the fire is coming from that area. Before attempting to exit through the door, a person should first touch it.
If it’s hot, do not open it, as it means the fire is right outside the door. Try to exit through the window. If that’s impossible, wait for help, but do not open the door. If it’s not hot, open it slowly, and if you see flames, shut it immediately and either go out the window or wait for help. Incidentally, this is a good reason to always sleep with the bedroom door tightly shut-it can take flames up to 15 minutes to burn through a door, giving you precious time to escape or be rescued. Every upstairs bedroom should have a fire escape ladder kept near the window, and a flashlight to signal for help. Make sure all windows are able to be easily opened from the inside. Firefighters advise that you shouldn’t jump from a second story window, but hanging and dropping from the ledge can be a good idea. You’re unlikely to be critically injured, although you may break an ankle or leg. Anyone who can’t escape through a window should get down as low as possible if escaping through the house – that’s where the freshest air will be. Have a meeting place designated, such as the end of the driveway, or the mailbox, and everyone should go there immediately to be accounted for. No one should ever go back into a burning house to try to rescue someone.
Once you’ve got your plan, explain the escape routes to your family, and exactly what they should do in case of fire. And then practice it on a regular basis, at least once or twice a year. Some of the drills should be scheduled, daylight drills. Others should be surprise drills at night when people are sleeping, because that’s when the vast majority of fatal house fires occur. You can’t be too prepared for a fire. Have an escape plan, teach it to your family, and then practice it regularly. These are vital weapons in your home fire safety arsenal.
Fire Safety and Electrical Appliances
Electrical fires are one of the leading causes of home fires in the United States. Whereas some are the result of antiquated or damaged appliances and electrical systems, many are caused by user error or deliberate misuse of electrical equipment. Homeowners and tenants should take responsibility for using electrical appliances and equipment safely.
One of the areas to be most concerned with is an appliance in a small, enclosed area. For instance, many people keep a washer and dryer in a closet or small utility area. The dryer must have an appropriate-sized vent and be kept clear of detritus. In addition, the ducts must be securely connected at joints. Loose lint in the laundry room is combustible.
Appliance cords must be checked for frays and damage. They should also be situated away from damaging elements like working light bulbs and nails. Ruptures in cords are a frequent source of house fires. Cords should be out in the open, not covered with rugs or other items. Electrical outlets are also danger areas. Do not overload electrical outlets either in the number of things or in the types of appliances that are plugged in to each outlet.
Older appliances need repair and maintenance. Often it is best to replace an appliance that is not functioning properly. One of the first signs of danger for appliances is a funny smell, especially the odor of something burning. Tenants should talk to their landlords about replacing such appliances. It is in a homeowner's best interest to have properly functioning appliances in his valuable property. Tenants should also carry renters insurance in case of an appliance-caused fire. The monthly payments are a small hedge against a possible total loss.