Okay, time for a home fire safety quiz: guess the two busiest days of the year for residential fire alarms. If you guessed Thanksgiving and Christmas, you win a gold star and a ride on the fire truck next Fourth of July! And these holiday fires are not all false alarms, as this article quoting the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal makes clear:
In fact, cooking is the leading cause of fires in Ohio and accounts for more than 80 percent of residential fires on Thanksgiving, according to the Fire Marshal’s office. On Christmas Day, cooking accounts for 30 percent of fires in the state.
I also found this article with fire statistics from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association):
On Thanksgiving, 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to 1,300 home cooking fires, compared to 420 fires on a typical day. “Thanksgiving is a holiday of feasting, but it’s also a day of intense cooking when stovetops and ovens are working overtime,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications. “These culinary activities bring an increased risk of fire, particularly when people are trying to prepare several dishes while entertaining friends and family.”
But cooking is not the only cause of holiday fires. Trees, decorations, and portable heaters in use with cooler temperatures are also on the list, and I found lots of great advice on preventing holiday fires. So with Thanksgiving only days away, let’s run down our list of Top Ten Home Fire Safety Tips for the Holidays – starting in the kitchen.
- Cooking. Stay in the kitchen when cooking food. If you must leave the room, turn off the stove. Have a safety zone and keep children and pets three feet away from the stove and oven. Have a dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, or curtains — away from your stovetop.
- If you have a cooking fire. Here’s what NFPA wants you to do. Just get out, and when you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire. Call 911 or the local emergency number after you leave. If you try to fight the fire, be sure that others are getting out and you have a clear way out. Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled. For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed
- Portable heaters. When using an electric heater, turn it off when leaving the house, and unplug it when not in use. These heaters should not be used with an extension cord or near water. When buying a space heater, look for a control feature that automatically shuts off the power if the heater falls over. Never plug more than one heating device into an outlet. Here’s a link to my recent post on the danger of portable heaters.
- Fireplaces. Make sure the flue is open before lighting a fire, and never close the flue while a fire is still smoldering. Use a fireplace screen to prevent any sparks from reaching out and igniting nearby objects. Never use gasoline or lighter fluid to start a fire. Burn only dry, seasoned wood and dispose of the cooled ashes in a closed metal container outside, and away from your home. Never leave a fire burning unattended in the fireplace. And clean those chimneys!
- Christmas Trees. When picking out a live Christmas tree, choose a tree as fresh possible, with needles that are flexible and hard to pull off the branch. The tree trunk should be sticky to the touch. A tree that has needles that fall off easily when bounced has been cut long ago and is probably dried out: this kind of tree is a fire hazard.
- Lights and decorations. Buy lights with a label from a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and use the lights according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Decorative candles should be secured and kept away from material that could easily ignite. Candles should be extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed. Use replacement bulbs with the correct wattage, and replace light sets and extension cords that are worn or cracked.
- Emergency contact numbers. Keep a list of emergency fire, police and medical phone numbers handy – near your house phone (if you still have one!). You can also program these numbers into your cell phones in case you have to leave the house before placing the call. Teach children how to call for help in case of an emergency.
- Smoke detectors and batteries. Check all smoke detectors to make sure they’re working properly, and that batteries have full power. There should be at least one smoke detector on each floor of your house, although modern building codes often require more. You would be surprised at how many smoke detectors are non-functioning – and you don’t want to find out the hard way.
- Monitored fire protection. Of course the best smoke detectors are the ones connected to your alarm system – but sadly, most are only standalone “noisemakers.” Why monitored? When you’re away, it’s good to know that a fire will be detected as quickly as possible, and the fire department sent to your home. It’s also reassuring to know that if you are at home and overcome by smoke, help will still be on the way. Here’s a link to my post on fire monitoring.
- Fire escape plan. It’s important for families to have a home fire escape plan, but most families who have a plan seldom practice it. There should be two ways out of the home, and once family members reach the agreed meeting place outside the home, there is no going back inside. We actually had an escape ladder stored on the third floor of our old house – there had been a fire there before.
You may have fire safety tips of your own, and we welcome you to post a post a comment here. As we’ve said before, your safety and peace of mind are our primary concerns. Even though FrontPoint is the nationwide leader in interactive, wireless home security, there are plenty of smart, safety-minded folks out there with good ideas to share. How about you? And while we’re at it – have a very happy – and safe – Thanksgiving!