October 9th to the 16th is fire prevention week. It commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which ravaged 17,400 structures, burned more than 2,000 acres and left 100,000 homeless. Unfortunately, fire still causes a great deal of property damage, and kills and injures numerous people annually.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported 1,345,500 fires in the United States in 2015 or one every 23 seconds. These fires caused $14.3 billion in property damage, and over 3,000 died because of fire. 8 out of 10 fire-related deaths occur at home and in almost all cases, they were preventable.
The 2016 theme for fire prevention week focuses on smoke alarms and their importance for fire prevention. Here are a few tips for preventing a fire in your home.
Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years
Most people know they need a smoke alarm in their home and that they need to replace the battery at least twice a year. However, how many of us know how old our smoke alarm is? It may be the original that came with the house.
NFPA recommends replacing your smoke alarm after 10 years because it’s the usual life expectancy of the device. If your smoke alarm is older, it may not be as sensitive as it should be.
You can check the date on the back of the unit for the date. Homeowners are often surprised when they find how long they’ve depended on it for protection.
Don’t Rely on a Single Alarm
Unless you live in a shoebox, you’ll need more than one alarm. Experts recommend one on every level of your home, and preferably in every bedroom. Smoke alarms aren’t expensive, so adding more units is a cost-effective way to protect your personal belongings and increase the safety of your family.
Create an Escape Plan
Every household should have a fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year. NFPA offers an escape planning grid that walks you through the process.
Basically, you walk through your home and mark the escape routes. When possible, you want to indicate two ways out of each room. A proper plan also includes a meeting place outside of your home. If there’s a fire, everyone should get out, find the meeting place, stay out, and call for help.
Be Aware of Common Fire Causes
The number one cause of fires in the home is cooking. People put something on the stove and forget about it. Do not leave stovetop cooking unattended. If you need to answer the phone, shut off the burner. Set a timer for foods in the oven.
The second-most common cause of fires is space heaters and poorly-maintained heating systems in homes. Many electric and oil heaters become extremely hot and if they contact fabric, they can ignite. Newer convection heaters offer energy savings, attractive cabinets, and less chance of fire because the cabinets don’t get hot.
Annual inspection and cleaning of your furnace, wood stove, and chimney are also very important. A faulty furnace can ignite leaked fuel and may cause an explosion. Soot and creosote can accumulate in chimneys from wood-burning devices and those that run on natural gas or propane may deposit corrosive substances. An annual inspection detects minor issues and rectifies them before they cause a fire.
Fire prevention week is also a good time to review your Rhode Island homeowners’ insurance coverage to ensure it’s adequate. Insurance companies often offer discounts for non-smokers, when you install a central monitoring or a fire alarm system, and when you bundle your policies. Discuss your coverage with your agent, because no one can predict when fire can strike. You can only manage your risk.