Whether they are naturally occurring or man-made, fires are some of the most destructive and deadly disasters we could face. On average, fires cause more than $6 billion in damage and claim more than 2,500 lives every year. To help protect yourself, your loved ones and your property, learn how to prevent fires and ways to stay safe during a fire. This means learning how to use and maintain smoke alarms and prevent house fires and wild fires. It also means you need a plan in place for escaping a fire in the unfortunate event one happens where you are.
According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), three out of five home fire deaths happen in homes where there are no smoke alarms or the smoke alarms are not working. People living in homes without smoke alarms are twice as likely to die if a fire starts as people who live in homes with working smoke alarms.
There are two types of smoke alarms you can buy for your home: ionization and photoelectric. Ionization detectors have a small cell of radioactive material in them. This radioactive material creates an ionization process with other components in the smoke alarm. When smoke enters the smoke alarm it disrupts this ionization process. The disruption then triggers the alarm. The small bit of radioactive material in these smoke alarms isn’t dangerous. But, you should never throw them away in the trash. Instead, call a waste management service and ask them for direction on the proper disposal method for ionization smoke alarms.
Photoelectric smoke alarms contain a light emitting diode, a small photocell and an alarm. If smoke enters the alarm, the diode gets disrupted and bounces into the photocell. When light hits the photocell it sends an electric current to the alarm. This sounds the alarm.
Ionic smoke alarms are typically more sensitive and able to detect low smoke fires. Look on the bottom of the smoke alarm to see whether or not it is an ionization device. If it is, there will be an “I” or the word “ionic” engraved in the base. Also, be sure to purchase smoke alarms meeting the national standards developed by Underwriters Laboratories.
Be sure to place smoke alarms:
- Outside of every bedroom
- Inside of every bedroom where the door is usually shut
- On every story in the house
- In the basement
Place wall-mounted smoke alarms 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling. The ceiling mounted smoke alarms should be placed at least 4 inches from the nearest wall.
To keep smoke alarms working properly:
- Test smoke alarms monthly.
- Clean smoke alarms regularly by vacuuming them with a brush attachment.
- Install new batteries once a year.
- Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.
Home fires are incredibly deadly. How you decorate your home, cook in your kitchen and heat your home helps determine your risk of a home fire. With proper preparation, you can significantly reduce the chances of a fire breaking out in your home.
Never leave the stovetop unattended. Stovetops are some of the most dangerous appliances in any home. They cause 57% of all house fires and 86% of house fire deaths. This is because it’s so easy for a stovetop fire to start and then rage out of control. It’s imperative that you always keep an eye on your stovetop. A good practice is to set a timer to five-minute intervals when the stove is on. Even if the food needs more than five minutes to cook, this will continually remind you to check your stove.
Keep electric wiring safe. Improperly installed wiring, defective plugs, switches and outlets and overloaded circuits or extension cords are the leading causes for electrical fires. If you notice flickering or dimming lights, switches or outlets that are hot or smell odd, repeatedly blown fuses or discolored outlets and switch plates, you may be overheating your electrical elements. Always hire an electrician to install new outlets or fixtures and inspect existing ones. Never overload outlets or use too many extension cords. Also, don’t use frayed or broken cords or run cords under carpeting, near bedding or around combustible materials.
Prevent furniture fires. Furniture fires are some of the most deadly household accidents. This is because typically, furniture ignites when a person is on or near it. Never smoke when drowsy, intoxicated or using medication that can cause drowsiness. Use large, deep ashtrays and never place them on chairs, couches or mattresses. Also, be sure to leave at least 3 feet of space between furniture and space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves.
Heat your home safely. There are roughly 50,000 home heating fires every year in the United States. Some of the most common causes are failure to clean wood-burning devices, not enough clear space around heaters, and improper heater refueling. Clean your fireplace regularly. Never allow more than one inch of buildup of soot or ash. Also, have your chimney inspected every year, even if you have a gas fireplace. Additionally, have a professional install a safety pilot on gas fireplaces. When using a heating unit, always provide three feet of unobstructed space around the unit.
READ MORE: Don’t Get Caught Without a Fire Extinguisher
Wildfires are incredibly dangerous and destructive. Much like floodwaters, there is no way for you to fight back against a wildfire. Your best option is to prepare your property to mitigate damage and evacuate. If you live in an area susceptible to wildfires consider making the following modifications to your property.
Property within 30 Feet of Your Home
- Get rid of combustible materials such as dried leaves.
- Cut down any tree limbs that are 15 feet or closer to the ground.
- Remove vines or vegetation that is growing into your house.
Property within 100 to 30 Feet from Your Home
- Use gravel pathways or driveways to create “fuel breaks” across your property.
- Cut tree branches that are three feet or closer to the ground.
- Get rid of combustible materials.
Property within 200 to 100 Feet from Your Home
- Plant trees far enough apart that the branches do not touch.
- Place firewood or scrap wood at this distance from home.
- Get rid of combustible materials.
Whether you are living in an apartment building or your own home, dealing with a kitchen fire or a wildfire, you want to have an escape plan in place before a fire. It’s also important that you practice the escape plan with anyone living or staying in your home. Even if it’s grandchildren who are staying for the weekend, make sure guests know the plan. When a fire breaks out, so does panic. It can be impossible for you to orchestrate an escape for everyone in your home at that moment. With practice, your home fire escape plan can become second nature for almost everyone. Follow these guidelines when creating your evacuation plan:
Plan two ways out of every room. If possible leave your house or apartment through the first floor. Put an emergency ladder that can be lowered out the window in second-floor bedrooms. Make sure windows can be opened and security bars have quick release mechanisms. This way firefighters can help you escape from higher-level floors.
Establish a meeting place outside. Choose a location outside of your home. It’s best to have this place be the front of your yard and away from your home. This will help firefighters find you when they arrive on scene. Do not allow anyone to go back into the home for any reason.
Write it down. Draw the plan of your house or apartment and mark the escape routes for each room. Mark the location of where you will meet outside. Make sure overnight guests know where the plan is and are able to review it.
Practice. In a real fire, you may be blinded by smoke or disoriented and unable to navigate the home you’ve lived in for years so practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed. The plan should be practiced twice a year and revised if a family member has a change in health; especially one that causes even the slightest functional limitation involving hearing, vision, or mobility, for example.
Prepare. Protect. Prevail.
Fires are some of the deadliest and most destructive disasters that can happen to your home. Fortunately, most home fires can be prevented by following simple safety precautions. Even with disasters such as wildfires, there’s still a lot you can do to help mitigate their damage. Should a fire break out, it’s imperative that you and your loved ones know what to do. Be sure to put together your fire escape plan and practice it with everyone who will be staying in your home.
The Hartford is committed to helping keep you, your loved ones and your home safe.
- Download or order The Hartford’s guidebook Fire Sense: A Smart Way to Prevent, Detect and Escape Home Fires to learn more valuable information about the most common causes of home fires, lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk, and what to do if fire strikes.
- Make sure you have the right amount of home insurance to safeguard your home and belongings.
- Use our Junior Fire Marshal® (JFM) program materials to teach kids fire safety lessons including how to prevent a fire and what to do if a fire starts.