Practice fire safety this winter

Published 9:59 am Monday, November 27, 2017

By Jim Cowan

Clark County Health Department Preparedness Coordinator

With the increased opportunities to gather with friends and families this time of year, there is also the increased need for heat sources for warmth, cooking and ambiance as winter approaches. Together these factors merge to create situations in which fire safety issues must be considered.

Email newsletter signup

This should be a priority because statistics show at least one child dies from a home fire, every day, and about 14 children are injured every hour from fires or burns. In fact, 90 percent of all fire-related deaths are due to home fires according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a global nonprofit organization with the goal of preventing childhood injury

Because a working smoke alarm reduces the chance of dying in a fire by 50 percent, the best safety tip is to ensure that there is at least one installed on every level of the house and in every sleeping area.

Though some may recommend testing your smoke alarms twice a year with the time change, the American Red Cross suggests testing them every month. If they are not working, replace the batteries. Also, because smoke alarms expire after 10 years, replace your alarms with new ones if they are older than 10 years.

If you cannot afford a smoke detector, you can check with your local fire department. They partner with the Red Cross in providing them to those in need.

Though a smoke alarm will alert you to the presence of a fire, you must realize the urgency of the situation since you may have less than two minutes to escape. Therefore, it is vital that you have a fire escape plan that you discuss with family members and practice twice a year, especially if children are involved.

A good escape plan will include at least two ways out of each room (even if one might happen to be a window). If there are small children, have one person designated to get them out safely, with a back-up plan in place, in case that person is incapacitated.

Everyone, but children especially, should be taught that because smoke is so toxic, that you should “Get low and go!” Because warm air, including smoke, rises, the fresher, less toxic air will be closer to the floor.

If you are blocked by a closed door, feel around it with the back of your hand. If it is warm, flames may be on the other side and you should not open that door for an escape route. Children should be taught this practice as well.

Once out of the house, stay out! Then call 911, only after you are safely outside. Your escape plans should also have a designated place, a safe distance from the fire, where all members of the family know to meet.

Of course, prevention is the ideal safety plan. Foremost, children must be taught not to play with fire, matches or lighters. But even some adults must also be reminded not to smoke in bed and to blow out any candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.

Any flammable material must be kept at least three feet away from lit candles, fire places and space heaters. This would include keeping oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packages, etc. away from your stovetop. Should you need to leave the room, turn off the stove burner or space heater.

Because cooking is the main cause of home fires and fire injuries, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the following are steps that they recommend to prevent disaster when working in the kitchen.

— Stand by your pan. If you leave the kitchen, turn the burner off.

— Watch what you are cooking. Fires start when the heat is too high. If you see any smoke or the grease starts to boil, turn the burner off.

— Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove. Then no one can bump them or turn them over.

— Keep a pan lid or baking sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire. This will put it out.

Should there be a small fire emergency in the kitchen, it is good to have a fire extinguisher on hand. Because it has been noted that most people do not know how to operate one, the National Fire Protection Association recommends remembering the word “PASS.”

—Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism.

— Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.

— Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.

— Sweep the nozzle side to side.

In the event of an oven fire, the USFA states that you should turn off the oven and keep the door closed until the fire is out and the oven has cooled.

One other safety tip must be stated because of the tendency to use many electrical kitchen appliances (or even holiday lights). Do not over plug by plugging several appliance cords into the same electrical socket. Do not use extension cords or power strips for connecting space heaters.