Often when we think of disaster preparedness, we think in terms of earthquake, massive storm or major power outages. The concept of disaster gets more personal when there is a home fire. Everyone knows someone who has lost everything in a house fire. I have spoken to two people within the last several weeks who have had their own private disaster when fire destroyed their homes and all their belongings. Happily, both parties were quick to add that, “At least no one was hurt.”
Home fires are the most common form of disaster in the U.S. Last year fire departments in the U.S. responded to 370,000 home fires resulting in nearly 14,000 injuries and 2,520 civilian deaths. Damages in the amount of $6.9 billion occured as a result. Here are some other facts regarding fires in the home:
Most fires start in the kitchen from cooking accidents. (42%) Home structure fires peak around the dinner hour, between 5:00 and 8:00 PM.
Seven percent of home fires start in the bedroom, most often from smoking. These fires caused 25% of home fire deaths.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
The good news is that for the past 35 years, the trend is improving. In 1977 there were 723,500 home fires resulting in 5,865 deaths. Every year there have been fewer fires and fewer fatalities. Today those number are less than half what they were. It seems folks are becoming more and more careful with hazards.
Safety tips are always available from your local fire department, but some things to keep in mind include, keep fresh batteries in your smoke alarms, usually once a year will do it. Some folks use their birthdays as reminders, and some use January 1, but whichever method you prefer, just do it! If you need smoke alarms, buy them. They are simple to test, simple to use and simple to install.
For those who burn wood for heat, now would be a good time to get your chimney inspected and cleaned. Soot and creosote can build up in your flue and ignite, rapidly involving your entire house.
For kitchen safety, stay in the room if frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen, even for a short time, turn off the stove. A leading contributor of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking. Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires.
As the holiday season approaches, avoid overloading electrical circuits, and although no one uses candles on their Christmas trees anymore, many people still use candles throughout the home. Never leave a small child and a lit candle alone in the same room. If your tree is real, keep it watered daily, make sure you use strings of lights that are in good repair, because one third of Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems.
Fire prevention can be practiced by everyone and in most cases it’s not a case of disaster preparedness, but rather disaster prevention! I’ll take that any day.
As always send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns are 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.”