Protecting Your Home from Fire and Carbon Monoxide
Safety & You
Everyone wants to live in a safe and worry free environment with their families, spouse, and children. However, most people are closer to a disaster waiting to happen than they think. Safety may not be an issue that comes to mind as you go about your daily routine. You may feel safe. Yet, lurking in your home are dangers that can take lives and destroy property.
Thousands of people die from fire every year. Most residential fire deaths occur because of inhalation of toxic gas, rather than contact with the flames. The tragedy is that many of these deaths could be prevented by taking a few precautions.
General Fire Prevention Tips
- Do not plug too many appliances into an electrical outlet.
- Make sure that combustibles are not too close to heaters, stoves and fireplaces.
- Never smoke in bed, or leave a burning cigarette in an ashtray.
- Do not use damaged or frayed electrical cords or extension cords.
- Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
- Teach your children about the dangers of playing with fire.
- Never use extension cords with heating or air conditioning equipment.
- Purchase smoke alarms and fire extinguishers for each floor of your home.
Have an Emergency Escape Plan! Practice it frequently!
- Develop an emergency exit plan and an alternate exit plan. The most obvious way out may be blocked by fire. A window will usually be the second way out of a bedroom. Make sure that screens or storm windows can be easily removed. If you live in a two story home, you should have an escape ladder for each occupied bedroom. Escape ladders are available for purchase, and they can easily be stored under a bed or in a closet.
- Establish a meeting place outside your home to be sure everyone has escaped. Every family member should participate in practicing escape drills at least two times per year.
- In the event of fire, do not stop to get dressed or gather valuables. Seconds count - do not search for the family pet.
- Teach your family that in a fire they must stay low to the floor to avoid smoke and intense heat. Passageways may be completely filled with dense smoke, so everyone should practice exiting on their hands and knees while blindfolded.
- Train family members to feel a closed door before exiting. If the door is warm, open it slowly, and close it quickly if heat or smoke rushes in.
- Establish a rule that once you're out, you never re-enter under any circumstances. As soon as two people have reached the meeting place, one should call 911 from a neighbor's house.
Through education and media campaigns, most people now realize the importance of smoke alarms, and most homes in North America have them.
- Purchase a smoke alarm for every floor of your home, and read the instructions on how to use it and where to position it.
- Smoke alarms should be placed near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or six to twelve inches below the ceiling on the wall.
- Local codes may require additional alarms. Check with your fire department or building code official.
- Locate smoke alarms away from air vents.
- Test your alarms regularly to ensure that they still work.
- If you have a battery powered alarm, change the battery every six months when you change your clocks.
- For maximum protection, install BOTH ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms in the home for the optimum detection of fast flaming fires and slow smoldering fires.
To guard against small fires or to keep a small fire from developing into a big one, every home should be equipped with a fire extinguisher. Because almost all fires are small at first, they might be contained if a fire extinguisher is handy and used properly. You should take care, however, to select the right kind of fire extinguisher, because there are different ones for different kinds of fires. Install fire extinguishers on every level of the home and include the kitchen, basement and garage.
Selecting a Fire Extinguisher
Extinguishers are classified according to the class of fire for which they are suitable. The four classes of fires are A, B, C, D:
- Class A fires involve common combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, trash and plastics. They are common in typical commercial and home settings.
- Class B fires involve flammable liquids, solvents, oil, gasoline, paints, lacquers and other oil-based products. Class B fires often spread rapidly. Unless they are properly suppressed, they can re-flash after the flames have been extinguished.
- Class C fires involve energized equipment such as wiring, controls, motors, machinery or appliances. They can be caused by a spark, a power surge, or a short circuit and typically occur in locations that may be difficult to see or reach.
- Class D fires involve combustible metals.
A typical home or office fire extinguisher should have an ABC rating.
One of the greatest threats to your safety is the quality of air within your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a subtle yet dangerous threat because the gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
Each year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Thousands of other people suffer the effects of the gas without realizing it. Because CO symptoms mimic the flu and other common illnesses, CO poisoning can be easily missed during a routine medical examination.
CO is produced when any fuel does not burn completely because of insufficient oxygen. Mild exposure to CO gives most people a slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue ("flu-like" symptoms) followed by a throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, and fast heart rate. If the entire family becomes ill after a few hours in the home, and feels better when they leave the home, carbon monoxide poisoning should be suspected.
Possible sources of CO include:
- Furnace or boiler
- Gas or fuel-oil water heater
- Gas or wood fireplace
- Gas kitchen range
- Plugged, rusted, disconnected, or defective chimneys or vents
- Back drafting of combustion gases into the home
- Automobiles in attached garages
Certain clues can indicate a carbon monoxide problem. Check to see if you have any of the following:
- Rusting or streaking on chimney or vent
- Loose or missing furnace panel
- Soot on venting or appliances
- Loose or disconnected venting
- Debris or soot falling from chimney
- Moisture on interior side of windows
CO can be produced and spill into your home without any of the preceding clues present. Heating appliances that appear to be operating correctly can still be sources of CO. Burning charcoal or wood produces CO that can spill into the home. Gasoline engines, when first started, produce large amounts of CO. Autos in attached garages are often sources of CO.
How To Protect Yourself
To avoid CO exposure in the home, it is important to:
- Make sure heating appliances are installed and used in accordance with manufacturer's instructions.
- Make sure chimneys and vents draw all gases out of the home.
- Have the heating system, chimney and vents inspected and serviced annually by a qualified heating contractor.
- Never use charcoal grills indoors.
- Never heat your home with a gas kitchen range.
- Always use a kitchen range hood, vented to the outdoors, when cooking on a gas range.
- Never warm-up or run vehicles or other gasoline engines in garages or indoors.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that every residence with fuel burning appliances be equipped with at least one CO alarm. For added protection, place one on every level of the home. Read and follow manufacturers' instructions.
If your alarm indicates high levels of carbon monoxide in your home:
- Immediately move outdoors to fresh air and do a head count
- Call your emergency services
- Do not re-enter the home until emergency service responders have arrived, aired out the house, and determined it is safe to re-enter
- Correct the problem before starting the heating appliances
- If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds again, repeat the above steps. Do not ignore alarms.
Fires are traumatizing and frightening, as is a carbon monoxide incident. It is essential to fully recognize the hazards of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning and to take preventative action. A regular home inspection, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and an emergency exit plan will help you and your family live more safely.