Statistics show that, on average, fire kills eight people each week in Canada, with residential fires accounting for 73% of these fatalities. Unlike 25 years ago, a house fire today can turn deadly in as little as 3 minutes. When you consider it will take the fire department 7 minutes or more to respond, learning how to prevent, detect and escape a fire has never been more critical.
Research conducted over three decades has shown that modern homes may be making house fires more deadly than ever before. Newer homes and furnishings are made with more synthetics which make fires ignite and burn faster. They also release more toxic gases when burned. Most fire victims die from smoke or toxic gases and not from actual burns because poisonous gases and smoke from a fire can numb the senses in a very short time. Deadly conditions are reached much more quickly now than in the 1970s when more natural materials were used in home and furnishings. Comparing a study done over thirty years ago to a more recent study conducted in 2005 shows a troubling difference in the amount time a person has to escape safely during a house fire. The 2005 study concluded that because fires could be more aggressive, due to the types of materials used nowadays, the time needed to escape home fires has been reduced from approximately 17 minutes to as little as 3 minutes.
Here are 10 easy steps to ensure you are prepared in case of a fire:
1. Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home, test it monthly and change the battery yearly.
2. Never leave cooking unattended.
3. Don’t overload electrical outlets.
4. Never leave candles unattended.
5. Stub cigarettes out completely and dispose of them safely.
6. Never store gasoline indoors.
7. Prevent arson by keeping your property clean of trash and flammables.
8. Keep flammable materials such as curtains and furniture at least one metre away from space heaters.
9. Store matches and lighters in a child-proof drawer or cabinet.
10. Create and practice a fire escape plan with your whole family. Get out, stay out and call 911.
- Ensure you test your smoke detectors monthly.
- Battery-operated smoke detectors should alarm you when the batteries are low and need replacing. However, it is a good idea to change the batteries yearly, this will give you the peace of mind that your smoke detector will always be powered and ready to go.
- Clean your smoke detector every 6 months. You should open the cover and gently vacuum the interior to remove any dust or particles that may affect how the smoke detector works.
CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) DETECTORS
First of all, what is Carbon Monoxide?
WHAT IS IT: A colourless, odourless and tasteless gas.
SIGNS: Stuffy air, water vapour, backdraft and soot from a fireplace.
SYMPTOMS: Headaches, weakness, nausea, vomiting and loss of muscle control. They can be mistaken for flu symptoms.
EFFECTS: If inhaled, carbon monoxide deprives the blood of oxygen. Prolonged exposure can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage or death.
CAUSES: Blocked or dirty vents, flues, chimneys and furnaces, as well as improper ventilation of burning fireplaces or woodstoves.
Now that you’re educated on Carbon Monoxide, here are a few tips on how to avoid Carbon Monoxide poisoning:
- Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home.
- Ensure a wood or coal-burning stove is properly installed and vented.
- Don’t operate a gasoline-powered engine, kerosene stove or
charcoal grill in a closed space.
- Barbeque grills should never be operated indoors.
- Check clothes dryer vents that open outside the house for lint.
- Check forced air fans for proper ventilation.
A fire extinguisher can be used to put out a small fire in its early stages. You should keep one in your kitchen, basement, and garage out of reach of children and away from stoves and heating appliances. Keep in mind that the type of portable extinguisher must match the type of fire you’re fighting.
Class A: fights ordinary combustible fires like wood, cloth and paper.
Class B: fights fires fuelled by flammable liquids like gas, oil, and paints.
Class C: fights electrical fires sparked by wiring and appliances.
Class D: fights fires involving combustible metals such as magnesium.
Class K: fights commercial cooking oil fires.
Consider purchasing an approved (ULC) extinguisher that has an ABC rating. This type can be used on most types of domestic fires. Your local fire department can guide you in the purchase of an extinguisher.
Involve everyone in drawing a simple floor plan of your home, marking exactly how to get out in a fire emergency.
- Indicate all windows and doors as well as any stairways. Include any features, such as a porch roof or a tree that could help you get out safely.
- Mark two ways out of each bedroom – a main exit (usually the door) and an alternate, such as a window. The second exit must be practical and easy to use.
- Establish a meeting place outside, a safe distance from the house. Write the location on the floor plan. Having a designated meeting place will allow you to account for everyone and let firefighters know if anyone is still inside.
- Post the plan! Provide each family member with a copy of the plan and post it on the fridge as well. Do no assume young children, the elderly and the disabled will be awakened by smoke alarms. They should be assisted by an adult during a fire emergency.
- Hold a fire drill once or twice a year – during the day and preferably at night as well, and with your ‘fire’ in different locations.
- Remember that when an alarm sounds you have approximately 3 minutes to escape safely.