Protecting Your Family from Fire: Why it Takes More Than Just Installing Smoke Alarms

Each year thousands of Americans die in residential fires, many of which could have been prevented. According to the United States Fire Administration we have a severe fire problem resulting in more than 1 million fires each year. Of these fires, more than 350,000 are residential with an estimated loss of 3,000 lives each year. Although many homes are equipped with smoke detectors far many more households do not practice prevention, nor do they have a plan of action in case of fire.

In the event of a home fire you have to be prepared because there is no time to think about the situation. Will your family be able to reach safety in time? Do you have a plan? Are your smoke alarms in working order? When it comes to protecting your family from fire these are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself. Here are some tips on making your home fire safe.

The US Fire Administration (USFA) reports 42% of home fires where fatalities occurred, there was no smoke alarm system installed. Without smoke detectors there is no way your family will be alerted to a fire in your home. Most fatal fires in the home occur between the time you lay down to go to sleep until you rise the next morning.

If you are sleeping it is not possible to detect a fire even if it is happening right next to you. Often times with sleeping fire victims where no smoke alarm is present death occurs long before the fire reaches the victim. As fire spreads through the home it sucks oxygen out of the air rendering those trapped inside unconscious and eventually un-breathing.

Fires in homes can spread extremely quickly and in a matter of minutes can completely envelope a home and it’s contents in fire. For the best protection, there are two types of smoke detectors you should install in your home. A photoelectric smoke alarm will detect slow burning fires accompanied by thick smoke and an ionization fire alarm will detect fast moving fire that may not have much smoke. Install both types of detectors in your home for maximum safety.

Smoke alarms should be placed 10-15 feet from every sleeping area in your home, the closer the better. It is best to put a smoke detector in every room to provide the earliest notification should fire occur. Don’t forget to also place a smoke detector in the basement (near dryer or hot water heater) and in the attic.

The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) reports at least 20% of homes have non working smoke detectors. Replace the batteries in all of your smoke detectors every 10-12 months and install new units every 7-10 years. Those renting a house or an apartment should always check to make sure smoke detectors are installed and in working order. In most, if not all states landlords are required to install smoke and/or fire detection devices in all rental properties.

Installing smoke detectors alone may not be enough for some people. Often, children and people who sleep very deeply do not awake to smoke alarms. Those taking certain medications or sleep aids may also be at risk because of deep sleep. The sound of the smoke alarm may become incorporated into a dream or it may just not be heard at all. This can be especially dangerous for children because parents may not be able to reach them in time. In as little as five minutes a small fire can grow to fill an entire room engulfing all its contents.

Aside from standard smoke detectors and alarms there are many new and improved products on the market. Some of these products have been traditionally sold to the blind and hearing impaired but they can also safe a life of a child or someone hard to wake. Strobe light detectors provide an alarm and visual stimulus in the event of fire. A strobe light alarm may be beneficial if you are not sensitive to sound but sensitive to light. For those who sleep deeply a vibrating alarm that goes under the mattress may be helpful for early notification.

You can also purchase “talking” smoke alarms that emit a voice instead of a shrill beep or bell. Parents can record their voice to help get children out of bed or you may use prerecorded messages. Although smoke alarms are usually the best line of defense against residential fires you may want to purchase other aids. A Heat sensor can detect fire by sensing room temperatures and will go off when it reaches the predetermined fire temperature.

Heat sensors are especially beneficial for detecting fires that do not cause much smoke, or fires located in another area of the home. Every home should also have a carbon monoxide detector installed on every floor. Carbon Monoxide can kill without warning so you should have at least one installed on every floor, if not more.

Protecting your family from fire takes more than just installing a few smoke detectors. Many fire related deaths occur in homes where working fire alarms are installed. You have to be prepared for a house fire. It may never happen to you, but if it does you want to make sure you know what to do. In many home fires, the difference between life and death is the ability to act and act quickly. You have to create an escape plan that is easy to follow and gets you out of the house as quickly as possible.

If you have small children it is imperative they know what to do in the event of fire and where to go. Too often children get scared and end up hiding or going back to sleep. Make sure your children know if the fire alarm goes off to get out of the house immediately. Be sure to include your neighbors in your escape plan. If your home is on fire you will need a someone to call 911 and your neighbors can provide refuge from emergency crews, news cameras, and prying eyes.

Once you have determined your escape route practice it, both at night and during the day. There is a huge misconception among many Americans that deadly fires occur at night only. Deadly fire is more likely to occur at night but it does not mean that it cannot happen at any other time. You should also have a copy of your homes floor plan and keep it stored in your car or another safe place outside your home.

When firefighters respond give them the floor plan so they can navigate easily through your home increasing the chance your children, family members, and pets can be found in time. You may also want to give a copy to your neighbors in the event you are not home. Be sure to mark on the floor plan what rooms children, family members, and pets may be occupying.

Far too many home fire related deaths can be prevented. To make your home as fire safe as possible install working alarms, have a plan of action, and practice prevention. Matches, lighters, and other flammable substances should be stored out of the reach of children. Close doors and windows in rooms not being used to help stop the spread of fire should it occur.

Make sure outlets are not overloaded and unplug items that could cause a fire hazard (like Christmas tree lights). Do not leave oil or kerosene heaters on while asleep and do not use them in unattended areas. Be careful when using candles and make sure all flammable materials are far away from the flame. Do not smoke in bed or while laying down because smoking is a leading cause of home fires. By following these suggestions your home will be safer and your family will have a better chance of survival in the event of fire.

For help creating an escape plan, as well as information on prevention, planning, and practice visit Fire Zone at Fire Zone is sponsored by the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and also offers teachers, parents, and children resources on fire safety including activity kits and pamphlets. To order strobe and vibrating fire alarms visit Silent Call at Kidde and Kid Smart also offer new technology in fire and smoke detection.

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