Building evacuations strike up images of offices skyscrapers, schools, and government buildings. We talked about how many of these commercial space fires occur and how they start in a recent blog post. But the 3,340 annual commercial building fires pale in comparison to the over 355,000 house fires that occur in the US every year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, US fire departments respond to a house fire every 88 seconds on average. And these fires don’t only happen in empty houses. They lead to over 2,500 deaths and 11,000 injuries too. It’s something we all need to be better prepared for so that we can all be safer.
What Causes All These Fires?
The most common cause of home fires is cooking. Not surprising given that you’re dealing with fire or glowing-hot heating elements to begin with. Whether it’s a turkey forgotten in the oven, or a grease splatter that goes wrong, cooking leads to 21% of all home fires. In the past, smoking was the biggest culprit, but as it’s gone out of style to smoke in the home or smoke at all, so too have the numbers of smoking-caused fires gone down.
The second leading cause of home fires is heating equipment, usually due to poor cleaning and maintenance. For example, when you burn a real wood fire in your fireplace, the smoke carries different chemicals that slowly build up flammable deposits on the inside of the chimney. If those deposits get too big, they can catch on fire themselves, causing an extremely dangerous situation that is difficult to control. And even though they don’t directly involve fire, space heaters were the leading cause of home fire deaths at a massive 86%. That means 2,150 people die because of their space heaters every year. If there’s one lesson to learn here, be extremely careful with space heaters.
First Line of Defense
As we work to help reduce the number of injuries and death caused by house fires, there’s one device that stands above all the rest: Smoke Alarms. Almost 60% of home fire deaths happen in homes without working smoke alarms. If you don’t have a smoke alarm, get one. Right now. If you only follow one recommendation in this blog post, purchase and install a smoke alarm on each floor of your home.
In the event of an emergency, a smoke alarm will alert you to the fire, giving you time to get out of the house before it’s too late. Operational smoke alarms reduce your risk of death by 50% so be sure the batteries are in working order as well. Many newer smoke alarms like the ones from Kidde have batteries that last 10 years since 12 states have laws requiring it. Interconnected smoke alarms further increase their effectiveness.
Other Safety Options
Knowledge is another key to keeping you safe. Learn how to put out the most common types of fires. If your curtains, clothes, carpet, or furniture is on fire you can use water or an AFFF Foam Fire Extinguisher. If it’s a grease fire in the kitchen, DO NOT USE WATER. Begin by turning off the flame or heating element and then try to cover the fire with a lid or pan to cut off the fire’s source of oxygen. If it’s relatively small you can try to douse it with salt or Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. If it’s larger and you own a Wet Chemical (Class F) Fire Extinguisher, you can use that although later the space will need to be cleaned of the chemicals it sprays.
No matter the cause of the fire, if it is growing faster than you can contain it, get out. Then make sure the fire department has been notified. Some home security systems automatically contact the fire department. Some do not. It’s best to call 911 either way, just to make sure. And while Jack from This Is Us seemed like a hero by rescuing the family photo albums, do not re-enter the home for any reason. He died and we’re pretty sure his kids would have rather had their father than some pictures.
Whatever the cause of the fire, you should have a plan that tells you exactly how to get out of the house. Which door will you use to leave from the first floor and which window will you use if you’re up-stairs and can’t get down? Emergency situations are not the time to think things through. Do that ahead of time. Get together as a family and discuss the following:
- Escape Route: How will you get out of the house? If the fire is in the kitchen and you’re in the family room, what is the safest and quickest door to use? If the fire is downstairs and you’re in the bedrooms upstairs, will the front stairs or the back stairs be safer? Pre-plan some of these routes and practice them as a family.
- Dealing with Smoke: If the smoke alarms go off and you need to use your escape route, be sure to stay low. Smoke and heat rise, so stick to the cleanest air which is near the floor. Practice getting to the floor quickly and crawling from room to room so that when it’s time to go, you don’t have to think. Your body will know what to do.
- Escape Tools: What if a door is locked and you can’t get it open? What will you use to get through? What if you’re trapped upstairs and the only escape route is a window? How will you get safely to the ground? Think about these potential circumstances and create solutions. Consider getting a rope ladder to get out of a second story window or knowing what you’ll use to break a window in case the front door is jammed.
- Meeting Place: Once you’re out of the house, you’ll want to know that everyone else is safe too. Pick a meeting place outside so that everyone stays together, and you can tell who’s missing. When the fire department arrives, they’ll ask if anyone is left inside. A meeting place will help you answer that question quickly and accurately.
You should also remember that fire lives on oxygen. As you leave the house, close doors behind you as much as possible to limit how much air can flow throughout the house.
What If Someone Can’t Walk?
There are times when people need assistance. If you or a family member cannot walk on your own, or require significant help, there are special chairs designed to get you down stairways, across the hallway, and out of the house quickly. Evacusafe manufactures chairs like this including the Excel Chair and the Three-Wheel Chair. Sturdy and reliable, these chairs eliminate the danger of taking a wheelchair down a flight of stairs with smooth-glide tracks or rotating when assemblies. Look and see if one our evacuation chairs would help keep someone in your home safe.
Whatever your circumstance, we hope that you never have to deal with a fire in your home. Be careful with space heaters and wood-burning fireplaces and you’ll have done a lot to reduce your risk. But just to be prepared, consider keeping a fire extinguisher on hand and have an evacuation plan prepared.