Most people consider their home to be their sanctuary from the dangers of the world. It’s the place to find comfort and security. It provides shelter, and a refuge from worry. Unfortunately, this peace can be shattered by a home fire.
Home fires are a major problem in America, and especially during the colder months of the year, causing tremendous property loss, injuries, and even deaths. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, residential fires are the leading property type for fire deaths (75%), fire injuries (77.1%) and fire dollar loss (43.3%). The National Fire Protection Association reported from 2014-2018 more than one quarter of all reported fires occurred in homes. During this period, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 353,100 home structure fires per year. These fires caused an annual average of 2,620 civilian deaths; 11,030 civilian fire injuries; and $7.2 billion in direct property damage.
The American Red Cross recommends these simple things to better protect your home from fires:
- Check for curtains, towel racks or even paper towel dispensers sitting too close to the burners.
- If your microwave isn’t built in, make sure it’s clear of surrounding clutter and its vents aren’t obstructed.
- If you don’t already have one, buy a fire extinguisher to keep within easy reach should something ignite while you’re cooking.
- Remember, don’t toss water on a grease fire if you’re caught without an extinguisher. If a fire starts in a pan – and many do – put a lid on it to suffocate the flames.
- Make sure to always keep anything that gives off heat at least 3 feet away from flammable materials or items.
- Never plug more than one heating appliance into an outlet.
- Keep portable gas generators outside and away from windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If you have a fireplace, make sure your chimney is checked and cleaned by a professional once a year. Use a metal or glass screen that is large enough to prevent escaping embers.
- Never leave fires (or candles) burning, or heating appliances plugged in, while asleep, in another room, or when you leave your home.
Dryers are responsible for about 9 out of 10 appliance fires. Check yours – in fact, check all your appliances – for testing labels that indicate you purchased them in safe working order. You may not find them on some older appliances, so consider whether it’s time to replace them or have them checked by a professional. Make it a habit to clean out the lint screen every time you use your dryer. It may be an annoyance, but this simple action can save you a lot more pain and aggravation later.
All those appliance and electronic cords have to plug in somewhere, so your electrical outlets should be next on your home inspection list. That list should include the following:
- Are any overloaded or showing signs of wear?
- Rearrange things so as many appliances as possible have their own outlets, and use extension cords to reach more distant outlets.
- This option may be a bit unsightly, but avoid running extension cords under rugs.
- Make sure your lamps are all using bulbs with wattage equal to or less than what the manufacturer recommends as well.
- When it comes to electronics, unplug them when they are not in use whenever possible.
- Lastly, keep in mind that items like televisions and computers need space from anything flammable because they can overheat!
Your garage, basement and yard can present hazards as well – in fact, they have the potential to be even more dangerous.
- Avoid cluttering debris or junk near your furnace or heater.
- Old newspapers piled in damp, warm places can actually self-combust – they don’t even have to be close to a heat source.
- If you have gasoline or other flammable liquids at home, keep them tightly sealed in metal containers and make sure they are far away from heat sources, including the gas or charcoal grill you love to use in the summer.
- When grilling, the grill itself should be at least 10 feet from your home and placed away from any overhead branches or structures.
Despite your best efforts, something may go unexpectedly wrong, so you and your family should have a plan for what to do in case of emergency. That plan should include:
- Create an escape route that provides two possible exits from each room, such as a window and a door.
- Avoid using any windowless rooms as bedrooms.
- Keep escape routes as clutter-free as possible so no one trips and falls on the way out during an emergency.
- Practice your plan at least twice a year and make sure everyone can safely escape in less than 2 minutes.
- Keep in mind that members of your household may need extra assistance – have a plan for who will help them and practice!
Smoke alarms double the chance of your family surviving a fire, so it goes without saying that you should have several.
- Don’t neglect to test them and change the batteries regularly.
- You should test them once a month and change the batteries every 6 months (if your smoke alarms use replaceable batteries) regardless of whether they seem to need it, just to be on the safe side (some alarms are 10-year tamper resistant and don’t have replaceable batteries).
- You know the drill – make it a habit to change batteries twice a year when you turn your clocks.
Beasley Allen lawyers have successfully handled a number of cases involving defective equipment resulting in fires or defective equipment failing to warn the occupants of a fire. If you would like more information, you can contact Sloan Downes, Director for our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section at Sloan.Downes@beasleyallen.com. Sloan will have a lawyer contact you.