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The 7 Things to Consider when Developing a Plan to Help your Family Escape a Fire

Advance planning is critical to surviving a fire. Fire spreads rapidly through a home and the thick smoke makes it difficult to see and breathe. Once the alarm sounds, you may have less than two minutes to escape safely.

If you and your family don’t have a home escape plan, the time to develop one is now…not when you’re awakened by a blaring smoke alarm at 2:00 am.

Below are some general guidelines to help you develop a workable fire escape plan for your household…

  1. First of all, every home needs a fire warning system. Don’t be fooled into thinking the smell of smoke will wake you up…it won’t. You must have working smoke alarms installed outside every sleeping area and on every level of your home. If your alarms operate on batteries, it is recommended you replace the batteries at least once a year to ensure they are always fresh. A good reminder for replacing the smoke alarm batteries is to do it when you adjust the clocks for daylight saving time. Also, the smoke alarms themselves will likely need replacing after 8-10 years. Check the instructions that came with your particular model of alarm regarding its expected lifespan.
  2. Walk through your home and determine all possible exits and means of escape. You need at least two ways out of each room – usually a door and a window – in case smoke or fire is blocking your first exit choice. Check to make sure the doors and windows can be opened easily and will allow escape.
  3. When creating your family fire escape plan, include every member of your household so they will all understand exactly what to do. If there are very young children, or family members with mobility limitations, assign someone to assist them in the event of an emergency. Instruct older children how to escape on their own in the event you are unable to help them.
  4. When escaping, you should always choose the route that has the least amount of smoke and heat. If you have no choice but to escape through smoke, crawl on your hands and knees. Since smoke rises, the air nearest the floor will be cleaner and cooler. Also, before opening a closed door to escape, feel the door. If it feels warm, use another escape route. If the door does not feel warm, stay low to the floor and open it slowly. Be prepared to close it quickly if there is smoke or fire in the hallway. If you can safely pass through a door, remember to close it on your way out as that will slow the spread of the fire.
  5. If your residence has two floors, everyone (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. For rooms higher than ground level, consider purchasing an escape ladder for each occupied room and then have everyone practice using it.
  6. Once you’ve escaped, do not go back inside. Select a safe place for everyone to meet outside, such as a neighbor’s driveway, a light pole, street sign or other location that is a safe distance from the house. If you don’t have a cell phone with you, call the fire department from a neighbor’s home or ask them to call.
  7. Most fire departments recommend practicing your fire exit plan twice a year. All family members should practice an escape at night and during the day, using different ways out. It’s important to determine during the nighttime drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If not, assign someone to wake them during the home fire drill and in the event of a real emergency. Also, when practicing, pretend some exits are blocked to figure out how to use alternative exits.

In some cases, the fire and smoke may be too intense for a safe exit. You may have to prepare to seal yourself into a room. To keep smoke from reaching you, close as many doors as you can between you and the fire. Use towels or clothing (wet if possible) or duct tape to seal the door cracks. Cover all air vents to keep out smoke. Open your windows at the top and bottom to let in fresh air but be prepared to close them quickly if smoke blows in from the outside. Avoid breaking the window as then you will be unable to close it in the event smoke enters.

Even if the fire department is on the scene, use a phone (if available) to call in your exact location. Shine a flashlight or wave a light-colored fabric so it can be seen from the window.

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New Homeowner Checklist - Proper Way to Use a Fire Extinguisher Featured Image

Follow These 3 Simple Rules for Using a Household Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher may help you fight a small household fire, but once a fire has started there will be no time to read any instructions. That’s why it is so important to know how to use a fire extinguisher before a fire occurs. If you haven’t already done so, familiarize yourself with your extinguisher now.

Below are some general rules for using a household fire extinguisher…

1) Make sure you have the correct type of fire extinguisher for what is burning

For example, extinguishers rated for Class A fires can be used on common combustibles such as paper, wood, cloth, rubber, and most plastics.

Class B extinguishers can be used on fires fueled by flammable liquids, such as grease, oil, gasoline, kerosene, and paint. Never use water on this type of fire as it can cause the fire to spread!

Class C extinguishers can be used on live electrical fires, such as those involving powered appliances and machinery, fuse panels, circuit breakers, electrical outlets or wiring. Never use water on an electrical fire as it can lead to a severe shock!

Fire extinguishers are commonly rated for multiple classes of fires. For example, most household extinguishers are rated ABC and can be used on Class A, B and C fires.

It is essential to know which type of fire extinguisher you have. Using a fire extinguisher to fight a class of fire for which it is not rated can be extremely dangerous, so do not attempt to fight a fire if you do not know what is burning or you do not have an extinguisher that is rated for the type of material that is burning.

2) Make sure you take the necessary precautions

A fire extinguisher is only designed to help you combat early-stage fires that are small and contained. If the fire is large and/or spreading, do not attempt to use the extinguisher – evacuate immediately and call the fire department. Also, if the room is filling with smoke or fumes, or you have difficulty breathing, it is safer to evacuate than it is to stay and fight the fire.

If you are confident you can fight the fire with the extinguisher, position yourself so that your back is to an unobstructed exit. This will provide you with a quick way out if the fire gets out of control. Also, if possible, have someone standing by to call for help if something should go wrong while you’re attempting to extinguish the fire.

3) Make sure you know how to use the fire extinguisher

It is imperative that the occupants of a home know the correct use of fire extinguishers. There will likely be a pin to pull or a latch to release in order to operate the extinguisher. Familiarize yourself with its operation now, so you’ll be prepared in the event of a fire.

What is the proper way to use a fire extinguisher? After you have pulled the pin or released the latch, stand several feet away and aim the nozzle at the base of the flames. Squeeze the lever of the fire extinguisher and spray at the fire’s base using a back and forth sweeping motion. Move closer as the fire starts to diminish.

PASS is a helpful acronym to remember. It stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.

After the fire appears to be extinguished, stop the spray by releasing the handle. Continue to keep watch over the area to make sure the fire is completely out. Repeat the process if the fire reignites. Also, remember to replace or recharge your extinguisher.

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New Homeowner Checklist - Causes of House Fires Featured Image

Three Causes of Household Fires that May Surprise You

When we think about the various causes of accidental fires, things like faulty wiring, portable heaters, and unattended candles easily come to mind. But there are also some surprising causes of house fires. Below are three things you probably never suspected as being fire hazards…

1) Batteries

It is a rare occurrence, but discarded household batteries – specifically 9-volt batteries – can lead to fires. When tossed into a waste can, these batteries can generate a spark if the terminals come in contact with a piece of steel wool, foil, or other conductive material. If a combustible substance is also present, a dangerous fire can ensue.

To prevent batteries from becoming a fire hazard, insulate the terminals by covering them with tape or seal the batteries in a plastic bag before discarding them. Some states do not even allow batteries to be discarded in the trash. If in doubt, check with your local municipality for the recommended way to get rid of old batteries.

2) Potting Mix

Another surprising fire hazard is potting mix. It appears harmless, but potting mix contains very little soil, if any. It usually consists of organic matter such as peat or composted bark, which can be flammable when dry. Many potting mixes also contain fertilizer, which can actually contribute to a faster-burning fire.

To further compound the risk, many smokers attempt to extinguish cigarettes in flower pots, mistakenly thinking the “soil” will not burn. However, a lit cigarette placed into a container of dry potting mix can smolder for a long time…and has the potential to burn down the entire house. If you or any of your visitors smoke, avoid putting out cigarettes in gardening pots. Also, don’t keep any containers or bags of dried potting mix in the same proximity as barbeque grills or fire pits.

3) Bird Nests on Porch Lights

It is not uncommon for birds to build a nest atop outdoor lighting fixtures, particularly porch lights, coach lights or spot lights mounted to a home’s exterior wall. Most birds build their nests from dry grass, twigs, leaves and other combustible materials. Certain types of light bulbs, particularly incandescent or halogen bulbs, produce a lot of heat which can ignite the nesting material.

Despite the mess and unsightliness of bird nests, many homeowners leave them alone because they don’t want to disturb the birds or eggs. The federal Migratory Bird Act actually protects many species of birds, including wrens and robins, from having their nests destroyed if they contain young birds or eggs. However, it is not a violation to prevent birds from building their nest in the first place, either by removing the beginnings of a nest or otherwise making the site inaccessible or undesirable. It is also safe to remove an inactive nest. Keeping nests off outdoor lights will help prevent a damaging fire.

Who would have thought these three ordinary items could initiate a blaze? Granted, it doesn’t happen very often, but these common everyday things do occasionally lead to fires. Now that you know about these potential hazards, hopefully you will take the necessary precautions to prevent them from contributing to an accidental house fire.

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