Fire-Safety Tips

Fires can strike anywhere at any time. Along with installing smoke detectors in your home, you should have a fire extinguisher in key areas such as the kitchen, bedrooms, workshop, and garage. Walk your family through a fire drill so everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of fire.

Every room in the house should have at least two escape exits. If one of these is a window from a second story, install ladders that can be dropped from the windows. Make sure children know where the family will reunite if they have to leave the house in case of fire.

The following simple precautions will help minimize the risk of a fire in your home:

  • Assign a special closet for combustible materials and dangerous tools that you don't want your children to touch. Put a good lock on the door and a heat detector inside to alert you to any fire danger.

  • Don't overload electrical circuits with too many appliances. If your fuses are blowing or your circuit breakers are popping, hire an electrician to look at your system.

    Don't overload electrical circuits with too many appliances. If you are blowing fuses or popping circuit breakers, call an electrician.

    Don't overload electrical circuits
    with too many appliances.

  • Don't run extension cords under rugs or carpets. The cords wear easily and may short out, causing a fire.

  • Nails or staples used to attach electrical cords to the walls or baseboards can damage the cords and cause fire or shock hazards. Tape cords to walls or floors instead of using nails or staples.

  • Replace frayed electrical cords before they burn or cause a fire.

  • Keep combustibles away from the furnace, which can emit flames or sparks.

  • Some fire departments supply stickers that can be placed in a window to alert firefighters to the presence of a child or an elderly or physically challenged person. Determine whether such stickers are available in your locality.

  • An electrical outlet or switch that is unusually warm or hot to the touch may indicate a potentially dangerous wiring condition. In such a situation unplug cords, avoid using switches, and call an electrician to check the wiring.

  • Ceiling fixtures and recessed lights trap heat. Since overheating can lead to fire, don't use a high-wattage bulb in such a fixture. If you don't know the correct wattage, use a bulb of 60 or fewer watts.

  • Always extinguish the fire in a wood stove before leaving the house and before going to bed.

  • Unplug your hair dryer or any other small appliance in the bathroom when not in use.

  • An electric blanket should not be tucked in at the sides. It may overheat and start a fire.

  • Be sure to turn a heating pad off before you go to sleep. It can cause burns even at a relatively low setting.

  • To make a dry fire extinguisher, pour 6 pounds of fine sand into a large container and add 2 pounds of baking soda. Stir the mixture thoroughly. Keep the container in your shop, garage, or kitchen. This mixture can be sprinkled directly on small oil, grease, and petroleum fires.

  • If you live or work in a high-rise building, locate the fire exits on your floor. If an alarm sounds, remember that you should always use the fire stairs, not the elevator.
For all our efforts to prevent fires, sometimes they do happen. In the next section, we cover how to deal with a fire.

Fire Safety in the Kitchen
The kitchen is one of the more dangerous rooms in the house. Open flames, sharp knives, hot pots, and scalding liquids can cause serious injuries. Look at your kitchen from the perspective of an accident waiting to happen. Are papers stacked too close to the range or cooktop? Are knives easily accessible to children? Here are some suggestions to consider in relation to preventing burns and/or a fire:
  • Keep the gas cooktop away from open windows where wind could extinguish the cooking flames.

  • Keep the handles of pots and frying pans turned inward on the kitchen range so that they cannot be knocked over by accident.

    Keep the handles of pots and pans turned inward on the kitchen range for safety.

    Keep handles of pots and pans turned
    inward on the kitchen range.

  • To prevent grease fires, keep the stove clear of anything flammable, including pot holders, napkins, and towels.

  • Keep baking soda on hand for extinguishing kitchen fires.

How to React to a Fire

Try as we might to prevent them, fires can happen in a flash. When they do break out, you need to know how to react. Here are several suggestions:
  • If you smell smoke or your smoke detectors sound, get your family out immediately. Call the fire department from a neighbor's house.

  • Never reenter a burning house for any reason. Leave fire fighting to the professionals as soon as they're on the scene.

  • Never use water on electric, oil, or grease fires. Turn off the heat immediately, and use a lid or a large piece of metal bakeware to smother the flames.

    Never use water on electric, oil, or grease fires. Turn off the heat and smother the flames with a lid.

    Turn off the heat and cover a pan that's on fire.

  • If you can't shut off the gas before fighting a gas fire, get out of the house immediately.

  • If you can't remove the fuel from a wood, paper, or fabric fire, cut off its air by smothering the fire with a coat or heavy woolen blanket. You might also cool the fire with water or a fire extinguisher.

  • Even if a fire is confined to a frying pan or wastebasket, never spend more than 30 seconds fighting the fire. Small fires can grow with frightening speed.

  • If someone's clothes are on fire, douse the flames with water or use a heavy blanket to smother the fire.

    If someone's clothes are on fire, douse them with water or smother them with a blanket.

    If someone's clothes are on fire, douse
    with water or smother with a blanket.

If you follow the suggestions we've outlined in this article, your home will be a safer place. And if the unthinkable does happen -- if a fire occurs -- at least you'll be prepared.

The Basics on Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors won't prevent a fire but they save lives by alerting you to smoke. If you don't have smoke detectors, install them now. In most jurisdictions, landlords are required to have smoke detectors in rental units.

For basic protection at minimum expense, place one smoke detector in the hallway near each separate sleeping area. Ask your city or town's fire department for advice on purchasing detectors.

And be sure to check the batteries in your smoke detectors at least twice a year. Many people find that they remember to do this if they take care of it when daylight savings time begins in April and ends in October.

Don't mount a smoke detector in areas where the alarm can be triggered inappropriately -- such as by smoke from cooking, steam from the shower, or in the garage where combustion products from the car's engine can set it off.