The United States' fire death rate ranks eighth among 25 developed countries for which statistics are available (CDC). The majority of reported structure fires occur in residences. Nationally, the most common causes of residential fires are cooking, and heating equipment. Whether in the form of flames or smoke, fire is the third leading cause of deaths occurring in the home.
The Minnesota Safety Council offers these suggestions to help you reduce your fire risk:
Buy and install smoke alarms, for each level of your home. The chances of dying in a fire are cut in half with the presence of a working smoke alarm. Place a smoke alarm in each bedroom or sleeping area. Sleepers are at greater risk of dying in a fire because smoke and toxic gases can put them into a deeper sleep and eventually kill them.
There are two types of smoke alarms. The ionization detector is the most commonly used and senses fast flaming fires. The photoelectric detector senses smoldering fires and will not give nuisance alarms from cooking. Some smoke alarms are now combination alarms using both technologies and have a hush button to silence nuisance alarms.
Test your alarms on a monthly basis and change batteries twice a year. Make changing batteries an annual habit by centering it around specific holidays or birthdays or at the spring and fall time changes. Consider purchasing ten-year lithium batteries for your alarms. Remember that the alarms themselves have a lifespan of less than ten years and must be periodically replaced. A smoke alarm is only effective if it is properly maintained.
Consider installing a residential fire sprinkler system in your home. With working smoke alarms and a sprinkler system, you increase your chance of survival to approximately 73 percent. A single sprinkler head will activate when the temperature reaches 155 degrees, which is usually 1-2 minutes after a fire starts.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy, especially in the kitchen, and learn how to use it. Store your kitchen extinguisher in a convenient spot, but not over the stove - most kitchen fires occur there.
The majority of kitchen fires occur when food being cooked on or in the stove is left unattended. Don't use water to extinguish a grease fire — this will only spread the fire. Approach a small grease fire with a properly rated extinguisher. If an extinguisher is not available, hold a pan lid only if safe to do so, (in a hand protected with an oven mitt) vertically to shield yourself from the smoke and flames and turn the burner off. Then move the lid toward the pan and ease the lid over the fire. Do not attempt to bring the lid up over the fire and then straight down. Once the lid is on and oxygen is cut off, the fire will extinguish itself.
Always keep matches and lighters out of sight and reach of children. Store them in a high, locked cabinet or container. Stress that matches and lighters are only for adults to use. Avoid referring to their use as "playing with matches" because children often do not associate experimentation with matches or lighters as "play."
Be aware that defective appliances and overloaded circuits are major causes of home fires. Make sure that all power cords are in proper working order; replace any damaged power cord immediately. Avoid overloading electrical outlets with too many appliances. Extension cords and outlets can become overheated due to overuse and cause fires. Check the temperature of the cords while in use. If they are hot to the touch, disconnect the appliance.
Space heaters or fuel-burning heaters should be placed away from any combustible materials and out of heavy traffic areas. Any heat-producing appliances or lighting devices, such as lamps or nightlights, should be placed away from curtains or other flammable materials.
Store all flammable liquids such as gasoline and propane outside of the home.
Plan and conduct home fire drills. It is important to have at least two escape routes out of every room in the house or apartment in case one is blocked by fire and set a pre-arranged meeting place outside. Every member of the family, especially children, should know the following steps to take in case of fire:
Crawl low under smoke and cover mouth and nose with a piece of cloth. An estimated three-fourths of all fire victims die from smoke inhalation and lack of oxygen.
Touch closed doors with the back of your hand to feel the temperature before opening them.
Get out of the house as quickly as possible. Don't stop to try to save valuables.
Never return to a burning house.
Call 9-1-1 after you've left a burning building, not from inside.
If clothes catch on fire, "stop, drop, cover your face, and roll" to extinguish the flames.
Some additional things to teach children:
Let children become familiar with the sound of the smoke detector.
Take a tour of your local fire station. Children will be able to see a firefighter in full firefighting gear and learn that he or she is someone who puts out fires and saves children.