In an emergency, call 911

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Fire Safety and Prevention

What our children should know about fire prevention and safety

                          preventionDo not play with fire—This may be the most important lesson we can teach our children, and the most difficult. Fire has an almost magical allure. Anyone who enjoys sitting in front of a fireplace in winter, and just gazing into the flames as they leap and feather into heat waves that ascent the chimney, or the warm glow of a campfire while telling stories, roasting hot dogs, and melting marshmallows for smores. This makes teaching the lesson difficult, and we do not know the answer to the question of how to teach it.

Have an evacuation plan & practice evacuating your home—If a fire starts in your home, no one should wonder what to do or how to do it. Evacuation plans need to have some flexibility too. Consider every possibility. Fires can start due to electrical short circuits, heating sources—especially fireplaces—and careless use of oil lamps and candles. The following section, "What to do when fire starts," is an important aspect of a fire evacuation plan.

Most fires will start in the kitchen, so you need to consider every point of egress available that is away from the kitchen for such fires. Give each plan a number in case you cannot lead everyone out of the house, and practice each plan and test everyone's understanding of what to do when evacuating the house.

What to do when fire starts—Remember your fire evacuation plans and get out of the house! Nothing is more important than getting  yourself and your loved ones out of the house. By the numbers you should do the following, and practice it as part of your evacuation plan:

  1. Yell, "fire!" Yell it over and over to make sure everyone knows.
  2. Think! Where is the fire? Then, If you know where the fire is, say where it is while you evacuate the house.
  3. Never just open a door when you smell smoke and think there may be a fire—test the door knob to see if it is hot.
  4. Always use the door as a shield when you open a door—do not stand in the doorway when you open it. Hot air and smoke will blast into a room if there is a fire on the other side of the door!
  5. Stay low! Hot air and smoke will usually rise, and collect from the ceiling down, so crawl on all fours if you need to to avoid breathing the smoke. Smoke inhalation can incapacitate you and kill you even before the fire reaches you. Some plastics give off toxic fumes when they burn, so be conscious of how your breathing is affected while you crawl on all fours. If the air seems fairly clear, but you are coughing and having difficulty breathing, hold your breath and hurry, or get a little higher if you can do so without standing with your head in the smoke.

Call 911—Do not stop to call from the house, especially older wood frame houses. Go to a neighbor's house across the street and ask them to call. We have heard the stories about children who saved their homes and family members during an emergency. Knowing how to call 911 is more than just dialing in the numbers, though. When teaching a child to call 911, make sure he or she knows your address—especially if they may be calling from a cell phone.

Stop, Drop & Roll—There is always the frightening possibility that your clothing or your child's clothing will catch fire. Teach your children, and join them in practicing Stop, Drop & Roll. By the numbers, do the following:

  1. Stop—Do not run! Running just "fans" a fire, making it burn hotter and faster.
  2. Drop—Get onto a flat surface as quickly as possible. Just squat and thrust yourself to the ground while covering your face.
  3. Roll—Keep your face covered while rolling back and forth on the ground to smother the flame.

Kitchen/Cooking Fires—Kitchen fires while cooking over an open flame (gas range) are fairly common. The best way to deal with these is to keep a dry chemical fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Alternatives to a fire extinguisher include keeping a large box of baking soda handy, a lid that covers the frying pan to smother any fire, or a large towel that can be soaked quickly in water and draped over the pan—but remember to turn off the fire, first if possible! Also remember never to use water to try to put out a grease fire!

When using a fire extinguisher, stand as far back as possible, and aim the discharge from the extinguisher so that the powder falls into the fire. The same goes for baking powder. Toss it in an arc so that a "cloud" of powder falls into the fire. Aiming the fire extinguisher or tossing the baking powder into flaming grease can cause the flaming grease to spatter, and the fire to spread.

Since fire prevention is the first most important consideration, a few common sense precautions should be kept in mind:

  • When cooking with grease, a high flame is seldom necessary, and you should contiually monitor the cooking.
  • If you need to step away and leave the kitchen to answer the phone or front door, turn out the fire.
  • Never place frozen foods into pre-heated grease. Any ice on the surface of the food can cause the grease to spatter, and possibly ignite.
  • The popularity of cooking the holiday turkey in deep fat brings up a corollary to the preceding caution. Never use a frozen turkey, and make sure the turkey is well drained of fluids.
  • When barbecuing, remember that gas grills are especially dangerous. They use open flame instead of hot coals, and the grease that drips into the flame will readily ignite. Wood fires are a problem too, because any wood that is not a glowing ember will readily spring into an open flame too. Charcoal is less of a problem, but grease dropping onto glowing coals can ignite too. Make sure you keep an eye on what you are grilling, and have some way to cover the grill and that you can easily close the air vents. Also keep a spray bottle full of water handy to save what you are cooking from becoming ruined—and keep the fire from spreading.
  • Fires often ignite in toasters and toaster ovens too. If this should happen, unplug it, and use either a dry chemical extinguisher or baking powder to extinguish the fire. Never use a CO2 extinguisher on any electrical appliance or fire, never! The ice that forms when using a CO2 extinguisher will conduct the electricity.

 Flammable liquid use and safety—This is another common source of house fires, and a little sound judgment will help avoid problems:

  • Do not store flammable liquids in the home, basement or garage near a source of flame. Pilot lights for furnaces, water heaters have ignited more house fires than can be imagined. The most dangerous flammable liquid is the gasoline used for the lawn mower and other gasoline powered equipment commonly used around the house. Other highly volatile liquids include naptha and toluene. Even liquids that you may not expect would be flammable, like enamel and oil based paint,need to be handled with care and a little forethought.
  • The best thing to do is to keep flammable liquids in a metal container of structure far enough from the house that they pose no threat if they should catch fire.
  • Never use a flammmable liquid for a purpose for which it was not intended. Gasoline was not iontended to be used to start cooking fires in our barbecue grill, or refuse fires. Gasoline vapor almost literally explodes when ignited.
  • If you spill gasoline or other flammable liquid on your clothing, avoid potential sources of ignition, and change clotese as soon as possible.
    • In addition to open flame, even static electrical discharges can ignite gasoline vapor—it's that flammable!
    • Gasoline vapor can linger in clothing, so it is best to place the clothing in the wash as soon as possible. If you use a gas dryer, it may be best to place the clothing outside the home in the open air for a few hours before washing.

Faulty wiring & overloaded circuits—Electrical fires are another high probability cause of fires in the home. Again, common sense avoidance of problems is the best course to take:

  • First and foremost, never use water or a CO2 extinguisher on any electrical appliance or fire, never! The ice that forms when using a CO2 extinguisher will conduct the electricity.
  • If a fire starts inside a wall, it was very likely caused by an electrical short. Evacuate the house, call 911, tell them you suspect an electrical fire, and turn off power to the house at the outside breaker box if you can safely do so.
  • If you frequently pop a circuit breaker when running an electrical appliance, the circuit you use was not designed to handle the load. Do not replace the circuit breaker or fuse with one that has a higher Ampere rating. Your wiring could melt down and cause a fire when it shorts out.
  • Many pieces of electrical equipment you use, like electrical lawn mowers and electrical chain saws, may require a heavy duty utility extension cord. Check the equipment manufacturer's recommendations and always use extension cords that can handle the load.
  • Replace worn, cracked or frayed electrical cords and extension cords.

The list of potential fire hazards is long, and this slide show from Reader's Digest covers and makes recommendations for most of them.




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