The dangers of house fires are getting a lot of attention in the wake of a deadly Christmas fire in Connecticut that killed five people: an elderly couple and their three grandchildren. Officials believe the fire was caused by smoldering embers discarded from a fireplace that warmed the home on Christmas Eve.
Is your family, including elderly loved ones, prepared if a fire happens? Here are some fire safety tips every caregiver and their families should know, according to the U.S. Fire Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If your elderly parents live alone, make sure they know the important of fire safety use these fire safety practices.
- Ember screens. Open fireplaces can be hazardous. They should be covered with tempered glass doors and guarded by a raised hearth 9 to 18 inches high.
- Ember safety. Keep the ember screen in place even after the fire has been put out. Always clean embers out before going to bed. Put them in a metal bucket, with a lid and take them outside and away from the house.
- No combustibles near the fireplace. Logs – even gas logs – can pop, sending sparks as far as three feet. Keep all carpet, drapes, holiday decorations at least three feet away from the front of the fireplace. If stockings are hung on the mantle, remove them before going to bed and place them away from the fireplace.
- Heating. Have your heating systems and chimneys checked and cleaned annually by a professional. Never store fuel for heating equipment in the home. Keep fuel outside or in a detached storage area or shed.
- Give them space. Hundreds of fires start each year when things that burn, such as curtains, clothing, or bedding are placed too close to space heaters, furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, or water heaters. Have at least 3 feet of clearance in all directions around portable space heaters.
- No extension cords. Never use an extension cord with a space heater. The extension cord might not be rated for the same level of heat draw as the space heater, which draw 1,500 watts.
- An inexpensive life saver. A working smoke alarm reduces the risk of dying in a fire by as much as 60 percent.
- Place them correctly. Install working smoke alarms on every floor of your home, especially inside and outside of sleeping areas.
- Maintain smoke alarms. Test and dust each alarm monthly, change the batteries at least once a year, and replace the entire smoke alarm unit every 8-10 years. Interconnected smoke alarms are best because if one sounds, they all sound.
- Plan ahead. Identify two ways to escape from every room. If you see smoke or fire in your first escape route, use your second way out. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year. Identify responsibilities for each member of your household and plan to work together as a team. Select a safe location away from the home where your family can meet after escaping.
- Escape ladders. Purchase escape ladders for rooms above ground level. Make sure every family member knows how to use them. Most brands hook easily onto a window sill and are opened by pulling a tear-away Velcro strap for a quick, non-slip path to safety. Store them under beds, so they can be grabbed quickly.
- No key required. Make sure windows and doorways open easily and unlock easily from the inside, without a key.
- Keep escape routes clear. Clean out clutter. Move any furniture that blocks your way. Stairs and doorways should never be blocked.
- Easy access. Keep fire extinguishers in many rooms and make sure all family members know where they are located.
- Maintain extinguishers. Mark your calendar with their expiration dates so you can recharge or replace them as needed.
- Know how to use it. Most people have never actually used a fire extinguisher. In an emergency, they may pull the trigger and wonder why its not working. Purchase a small, inexpensive extra extinguisher to practice with. Take it outside, and read the instructions. Know where the safety mechanism is, and how to disarm it, so you can use the extinguisher.
- After 20 seconds, get out. If you can't extinguish the fire after 20 seconds, get out of the house and call 911.
- Check wiring. Have a professional electrician inspect your home's electrical wiring system at least every 10 years, and make recommended repairs.
- Never overload the electrical system. Plug each appliance directly into its own outlet and avoid using extension cords.
- Maintain holiday lights. Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.
- Use GFCIs. Have an electrician install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in rooms where water may be present.