Every year about this time, folks start using their heaters to take off the chill, morning and evening. And every year about this time our local volunteer fire is called to respond to an increase in residential fires. Personally, in our area, I chalk it up to wood burning stoves, excessive creosote buildup and probably a lack of proper maintenance. According to the American Red Cross, home fires are the biggest disaster threat in the United States. The Red Cross responds to a fire in someone’s home about every eight minutes. Home fires are more prevalent than floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Simply by following a few simple safety rules you can drastically reduce the danger of fire in your home.
Before I start with safety rules, I want to mention a couple of pieces of equipment. First are your smoke detectors. The Red Cross recommends having a working smoke detector on every level of your home and in every bedroom. Test them each month by pushing the little button and while you’re at it, get the kids in on the act to teach them what the alarm sounds like and what means if they hear it go off. Then pick one special day each year to replace the batteries. Or at least listen for the little chirp that signals an almost dead battery and swap out the battery right away.
Secondly, how many of you actually have a fire extinguisher in your home? Before you run out and buy a supply of fire extinguishers for home use, stop by the local fire department for suggestions on the right type (usually a Class A,B,C) and instructions for proper use. And for those of you non-NRA types who are opposed to using guns for home defense, if the occasion arises and you need to defend yourself and your family, just hose the perp down with your fire extinguisher. Besides being 100% legal to have in your home, you can purchase one without a permit, (or a background check) and it will incapacitate an attacker by making him unable to breathe, see or even hear anything.
Electric heaters; get the kind that turn off automatically when they tip over. Also never leave them running when you leave the house or go to sleep. Talk to your kids regularly about the dangers of fire and the misuse of matches and lighters. Keep them out of reach of small children. And here’s one for the “duh” category; Never smoke in bed! For a more complete list, go to www.redcross.org. There is a printable checklist on their website.
Don’t forget to have a fire escape plan. Not only should your plan include alternate routes to get out of the house but a common gathering point needs to be established as well. And finally if your power goes out and the temperature in your home is dropping, DO NOT use a charcoal grill for warmth. Every year I read of some bonehead who brought the charcoal grill in the house and tragedy ensued. Carbon monoxide kills!
If you burn wood for heat, have your chimney inspected and cleaned, if necessary. Don’t cut corners when so much is at stake.
As always, send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found on my blog at www.disasterprepdave.blogspot.com. Dave Robinson is the Postmaster in Bandon, Oregon, and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us.”