Fire safety is one of the most significant safety concerns in our society. Fire has been a great driving force of human development and at the same time brought a lot of risks and dangers. We can’t give up all things that cause fire - especially since some come from nature (lightning), all we can do is educate and spread the knowledge of fire safety.
The Government of Ontario website notes 10,733 fires resulting in death, injury, or property damage in 2013. This number is just for Ontario - not even all of Canada. Thankfully, it follows a downward trend since 2003 with a yearly decrease in numbers of fires. This is good news: fire safety regulations and practices are helping save lives and property.
Fire safety involves the entire community and not just the fire fighters. Staying on top of things can save lives, so there is no excuse to skip any available fire safety measures. Fire safety is always relevant, but it is especially relevant now as Canada is battling the gigantic Fort McMurray fire - affecting over 2000 square kilometers. It is one extreme example of how safety and procedures can save lives during fires as with over 80 000 evacuees there have been 2 deaths as a result of car crashes.
Do Fires Burn Faster In New Homes?
In the United States fires claim 2500 lives and injure 12600 others while causing 7.3billion in property losses every year. There is a growing trend of faster spreading fires today than a couple of decades ago. Why are today’s fires spreading faster?
There are several factors that affect the spread of a fire - one of which is the composition of modern furniture. Today’s furniture is often made up of a high percentage of synthetic material which burns faster, more easily, and often at higher temperatures than natural components.
Another affecting factor is the attempt to make small living spaces appear bigger through the use of open concept layout. If you have noticed layouts where living rooms, kitchens, and dens are essentially all one space then you know what we're talking about. This makes a home look bigger but it also takes away the structural layout that can limit and slow down a fire. Beyond the layout there is also the matter of lightweight materials that simply burn faster.
What Can You Do To Slow Down Fires?
Changing the structural composition of your apartment and house is, of course, either impossible or extremely difficult, and in practice it is not feasible for the vast majority of the population. What can be done, however, is ensuring that as many of the things in your home as possible are from natural materials and don’t contain plastic. Plastic burns faster and hotter than many natural materials such as wood.
How Can You Ensure That Children Follow Fire Safety Rules?
Children require special consideration when it comes to fire safety. They don’t have the experience and foresight of adults to help make judgements in a time of emergency. As a general rule; make sure that kids are at least 3 feet away from anything that gets hot - like heaters, stoves, pots, etc. Curiosity is great for learning, but can be a danger when fire is involved.
Setting up an escape plan isn't just for kids - but it is especially important for kids because they need to know for sure where to go in case of emergency. An adult may be able to figure out where to go if something happens but children are less likely to be able to do that in a time of emergency. Having repeated practice of an escape plan means that kids can just defer to an automatic escape rout response rather than having to devise a plan during an emergency situation.
Pets Won’t Follow Fire Safety Plans, What Can You Do?
Very young children are rarely left alone, and should never be unsupervised. Older children can understand fire safety and follow the rules in an emergency. But you can’t explain fire safety to your cat, and cats are sometimes left alone for hours. This means that you have to take the right precautions for your pets: no candles or open flames, and very careful outlet management, to name a few. Pets don’t always try to eat your wires; but when they do, they don’t take fire safety into account. Pet-proof your stove by making sure that your pet can’t turn on the knobs when you aren't there or during the night.
Don’t leave heat producing appliances and devices unattended. This rule applies whether you have a pet or not; but for pet owners is doubly significant. Even if they don’t directly disturb the heat source; pets may knock something flammable onto it by accident.
They Make Your Life Easier, But They Can Also Cause Fires.
Technological progress means that there are more and more electronic devices at home that can heat up and start fires. A book isn't going to catch fire all of a sudden during the night - but if you forget your phone or ipad while it is plugged-in, and under-ventilated, it could start a fire. Never keep electronic devices in bed or on soft and cushiony surfaces - these restrict airflow and overheat the devices and if left unchecked increase the likelihood of a fire.
Wires, Wires Everywhere!
Another major home electronics issue are wires and their use. In particular; jerry-rigging extension cords all over the home - you know who you are - is a very dangerous practice. Extension cords are temporary solutions and should be used as such; for a long term solution you would need to contact an electrician who will use the proper wires and standards to make sure that everything is safe. This is especially true with pets.
Keep moisture away from your electricity. It is better to have a few inches of dusty floor than to mop your wires. If you really have to get those few inches, then get the wires out of the way until everything is dry again. The same precautions go for bathrooms - make sure that anything that is plugged in is safely away from water.
More Fires Start In The Kitchen Than Anywhere Else In The Home.
Many years ago when our ancestors lived in caves we used open fire to cook and socialize. Even just a few centuries ago we still had homes with an open fire - the hearth. Fire and cooking are important cultural icons around the world and thankfully we no longer need to have a bonfire in our livingroom. However, even though cooking at home is no longer done over an open flame, the stove is still a major fire hazard.
43% of all reported home fires happen in the kitchen. Kitchen fire safety is crucial and can’t be overstated. There are some fairly obvious and straightforward rules such as smoke detectors, not leaving the stove turned on when it is unattended, knowing where the fire extinguisher is, etc. However, the right kind of clothing when operating the stove may not be the top concern - yet it is extremely important.
Are You In The Know About Kitchen Fashion?
For starters, you should avoid any sort of loose or long sleeves. If you have long hair it must be secured and kept as far away from fire as possible. In general; clothing that extends from your body - whether by design or not - poses a significant danger next to a stove. Facial hair can ignite very quickly, and with the recent hipster beard trend this is a concern not to be taken lightly!
The next tip will delight the cleaning lovers - the less grease you have on or around your stove the safer it is. Grease burns as fuel. Don’t add more fuel to the fire - literally! Even when you’re done cooking; grease should be disposed of only when it has cooled down.
How Close Is Too Close When It Comes To Smoke Detectors?
Going back to the more common concerns - smoke detectors are crucial, but if placed too closely (less than 10 feet away from the stove) they may trigger at the smallest amounts of smoke and even steam. Keep your detector 10 feet away for maximum safety and useability. As obvious as never leaving a stove unattended sounds, it still must be mentioned. There is never a good excuse to do that; no matter how little time you have - the danger is too great.
In Case Of Fire.
What to do if a fire did break out? If it’s a grease fire, don’t use water! Water could splash the grease and help the fire spread even more. Use baking soda or salt in large quantities to smother grease fires, wet towels help as well. Of course, a fire extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire will be the most effective. Fire needs oxygen to burn, so when the oxygen is cut off, it has no more fuel. If the fire is in a pan, oven, or microwave, closing the door or lid can help slow it down or even stop it entirely. However; if the fire is too large, don’t take unnecessary risks.
Call 911 if fire breaks out. Even if you choose to combat the fire; you should still call 911. Fire is unpredictable and can spread quickly and unexpectedly. If you can’t douse it - firefighters will already be on the way and precious time will be saved.
Keeping A Close Watch On Smoke And CO Is Critical.
In addition to the commonly known smoke detectors there are also somewhat less commonly known CO detectors. Both types are responsible for saving countless lives over the years. Most people are familiar with the announcement that a fire inspection company will enter your home to make sure the detectors and everything else works fine, and to replace the battery. It is also advised to run monthly inspections to make sure that the detectors are fully functional. Smoke detectors can function well for up to 10 years, while CO detectors need their sensors replaced every 5-7 years.
How to inspect smoke detectors? There is a test button on your detector that when pressed will activate the alarm. See the below video for more details:
While the above guidelines test the power supply of the smoke detector and its ability to sound an alarm, it is also important to test the smoke detecting sensor. For that you can use a specially designed aerosol spray that can be purchased in a hardware store. Alternatively you can light a match, candle, or lighter that produce smoke a couple of feet below the smoke detector to test the sensor. If any of the above tests are not fully passed, replace the detector immediately!
As Tempting As Turning Off That Annoying Beeping Can Be - Don’t!
Especially as a landlord you could risk very hefty fines if there are issues with smoke alarms in your rental units. In one case a landlord was fined $5000 even though the tenant disabled the alarm. Following the fire code, smoke alarms must be tested every 3 months and it is advised to keep a logbook for that purpose to help track and confirm inspections. $5000 was practically a slap on the wrist as the fines can go up into the mid five-digits very easily. This is not to mention the potential danger in case of a real fire.
Know What To Do And Where To Go In Case A Fire Does Start.
Fire escape plans are extremely important. We all remember fire drills in school and some of us have them at the office. There is a very good reason for those - when we know what to do we can automatically follow the correct path of action in an emergency.
If you have children it is very important to draw an escape plan with them. The plan should have the location of exits, detectors, a few paths to follow to reach the exit, and lastly, a meeting place when everyone is out. The latter can be a location outside the home or somewhere at a neighbours home.
This plan is a good idea for everyone - whether you have children or not - as having an emergency plan is extremely important in situations when there is no time to think. In such a case you’d want to follow a safe and well thought out course of action instead of a series of rash decisions.
Be ready for a fire and know exactly how to respond to it. Your home should have all the safety detectors and equipment required to keep fire at bay - including a plan of exit. Being prepared can and does save lives.