Fire Safety Measures in Homes - Fire Protection Guide
Our homes should be the places we’re safest at, accompanied by great memories, items that are valuable to us, and the people we love.
However, those same homes can sometimes be the breeding ground for the worst of disasters, including fires.
In this guide, we will explore what causes fires, effective fire safety measures that can protect your home, and what to do in the event of a fire to mitigate the risks of harm.
Common Causes of House Fires
According to NFPA, these are the most common causes of house fires:
Faulty wiring is one of the leading causes of house fires.
Over time, wiring can become damaged or outdated, leading to electrical short circuits.
A short circuit is an electrical failure that occurs when an unintended connection is made between two points in an electrical circuit with significantly lower resistance than the rest of the circuit.
This results in an excessive flow of electrical current, which can, in addition to causing fire damage, also lead to several other potential consequences, depending on the context and location of the short circuit:
- Overcurrent: The most immediate effect of a short circuit is overcurrent. Since the resistance of the unintended connection is very low, current flows at a much higher rate than the circuit was designed to handle. This can result in excessive heat and damage to the components involved.
- Heat Generation: Short circuits often generate a significant amount of heat due to the high current flow. This heat can lead to the melting of insulation and the ignition of nearby flammable materials.
- Voltage Drop: Short circuits can lead to a voltage drop in the circuit. This can cause a loss of power to other devices connected to the same circuit, leading to temporary or permanent disruptions in their operation.
Short circuits are the leading cause of electrical fires. The excessive heat generated can ignite nearby materials, such as insulation, paper, or wood, and this can result in a potentially very dangerous fire.
Besides faulty wiring, short circuits can also be caused by damaged insulation, loose connections, or the presence of conductive materials where they shouldn’t be (like metal shavings or water in electrical equipment).
Overloaded outlets occur when too many electrical devices or appliances are connected to a single electrical outlet or circuit.
Overloading an outlet or circuit can cause excessive heat to build up. This heat can lead to damage to the outlet itself, the connected devices, or the surrounding wall.
Over time, this can create a fire hazard.
Overloaded outlets can also increase the risk of an electrical shock. When outlets are overwhelmed with too many devices, the chances of exposed wires or damaged insulation increase, making it more likely for someone to come into contact with live electrical components.
Electrocutions can be as deadly to a person as the fire itself, so take these risks seriously.
Now, we’re moving on to the next of the common fire damage causes.
Ah, here we go. We get that you’re trying to multitask, but when it comes to cooking, it’s just best to give 100% of your attention to your meal.
When you’re not, some of these incidents can happen:
- Overheating oil in a pan or deep fryer can lead to a grease fire.
- Ignition of flammable items such as paper towels or oven mitts left too close to a hot stovetop.
- Flare-ups on a grill when cooking fatty meats.
Space heater fires typically occur due to a combination of factors, and understanding these risks is crucial for the safe use of the item and the prevention of any fire damage.
Obviously, space heaters generate heat to warm a room, and if they become too hot, they can pose a fire hazard. This can happen if:
- The heater is placed too close to flammable materials, such as curtains, furniture, bedding, or clothing, which can ignite when exposed to high temperatures.
- The heater’s internal temperature control malfunctions, causing it to continuously operate at high heat levels.
- Dust and debris accumulate inside the heater, insulating it and preventing proper heat dissipation.
They can also tip over. Some space heaters are designed with safety features that automatically shut off when tipped over. However, if this feature is absent or not functioning correctly, a space heater can continue to operate when knocked over, overheating nearby flammable materials and even your hardwood floors.
Note that space heaters are electrical appliances, and like any electrical device, they can experience malfunctions for whatever reason. Short circuits, damaged power cords, or faulty internal components like the examples we’ve mentioned can all lead to fires.
Furnaces and Chimneys
Similar story here. If you leave your clothing or wooden furniture too close to a hot furnace, it can cause a fire.
Furnaces also require proper maintenance, in addition to the chimneys connected to them. Neglecting this maintenance can lead to the dangerous buildup of flammable debris.
Fire Prevention Tips for Homeowners
Now that we’ve gone over common fire damage causes, let’s cover how to prevent them.
Generally, these are all pretty easy to do, and with regular maintenance, you should avoid most of the fire accidents.
Installing Smoke Alarms
- Install smoke alarms in key areas of your home, including bedrooms and hallways.
- Test your smoke alarms monthly and replace the batteries as needed.
- Make sure all family members know the sound of the alarm.
Safe Electrical Practices
- Check your electrical cords and outlets regularly for damage.
- Avoid overloading electrical circuits.
- Unplug devices when they are not in use.
Kitchen Fire Safety
- Never leave cooking unattended.
- Keep flammable items away from the stove.
- Have a fire extinguisher nearby. We’ll get to the fire equipment part in just a minute.
Candle and Fireplace Safety
- Keep candles and open flames away from curtains and other flammable materials.
- Use fireplace screens to prevent sparks from escaping.
- Extinguish candles and fires before leaving the room.
- This applies for furnaces and space heaters too. Do not leave the heaters on when you’re not at home, and keep flammable items away when they’re in use.
Fire Safety Equipment for Homes
The #1 piece of fire protection equipment you should have in your home at all times.
Here are some key points about fire extinguishers:
- Types of Fires: Fire extinguishers are classified based on the types of fires they are designed to combat. These types include:
- Class A: For fires involving ordinary combustibles like wood, paper, cloth, and plastics.
- Class B: Designed for flammable liquids and gases, such as gasoline, oil, and propane.
- Class C: Suitable for fires involving electrical equipment or wiring.
- Class D: Intended for fires fueled by combustible metals, such as magnesium or titanium.
- Class K: Used for kitchen fires involving cooking oils and fats.
- Components: A typical fire extinguisher consists of a cylindrical metal container filled with a fire-suppressing agent, a pressure gauge, a nozzle, and an activation mechanism. The agent can vary depending on the extinguisher type.
- Operating Principle: Fire extinguishers work by releasing an extinguishing agent onto the fire to lower the temperature and eliminate oxygen, thereby extinguishing the flames. They may use various agents, including water, dry chemical powders, foam, carbon dioxide (CO2), or specialized agents like halon.
- Usage: To use a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS”:
- Pull: Pull the pin to break the tamper seal.
- Aim: Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, not at the flames.
- Squeeze: Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
- Sweep: Sweep the nozzle from side to side while maintaining a safe distance from the fire.
- Maintenance: Fire extinguishers need regular maintenance and inspections to ensure they are in working order. This includes checking the pressure gauge, looking for visible damage, and ensuring the safety pin is intact. Many fire extinguishers have a recommended service schedule.
- Location: Fire extinguishers should be strategically placed in accessible locations, with proper signage. Consider your kitchen(s), near exits, and other areas with a higher risk of fires (next to your furnace, for example).
Fire extinguishers play a crucial role in fire prevention and safety, and having the right type in the right place can make a significant difference in controlling or extinguishing fires before they escalate.
Now, while fire extinguishers are valuable tools for fire safety, it’s essential to prioritize personal safety. If a fire is too large or spreading rapidly, it’s better to evacuate and call the fire department.
Similarly, a fire blanket is a safety device designed to extinguish small fires, primarily in their early stages, or to provide a temporary protective barrier against flames and heat.
These blankets are made from fire-resistant materials and are used to smother fires by cutting off the supply of oxygen.
Now, here are some important things about fire blankets:
- Material: Fire blankets are typically made from materials that are resistant to fire and heat, such as fiberglass, Kevlar, or other flame-retardant fabrics. These materials can withstand high temperatures without catching fire themselves.
- Use: Fire blankets are primarily used to extinguish small fires by covering the flames and cutting off their oxygen supply. They are especially effective for fires involving cooking oil or grease, as well as clothing fires. Fire blankets can also be used to protect people while evacuating from a fire by wrapping the blanket around them.
- Simple Operation: Using a fire blanket is straightforward. To extinguish a fire, one typically follows these steps:
- Grasp the corners or edges of the blanket with your hands, ensuring your hands are protected.
- Slowly and carefully approach the fire, ensuring your safety.
- Gently place the blanket over the flames, covering the entire fire source.
- Leave the blanket in place for some time to ensure the fire is completely smothered.
- Maintenance: Fire blankets should be kept in an accessible location, free from obstructions. They need to be periodically inspected to ensure they are clean, free from damage, and have not expired. Over time, the heat-resistant properties of the material can deteriorate.
There are different sizes of fire blankets available, from small, compact versions for home use to larger blankets suitable for commercial or industrial settings.
It’s important to note that fire blankets should not be used for electrical or chemical fires.
Fire blankets are a valuable addition to fire safety equipment in homes. They offer a quick and relatively safe way to deal with small fires before they escalate into bigger problems.
And finally, we’ve got escape ladders.
These are safety devices designed to provide a means of quick escape from the upper floors of a building during an emergency.
They are especially important for multi-story homes, apartments, and commercial buildings that may not have easy access to ground-level exits.
There are two primary types of escape ladders:
- Permanent Escape Ladders: These are permanently installed on a building’s exterior or interior, typically near windows or balconies. They provide a permanent and quick means of escape.
- Portable Escape Ladders: These are designed to be stored and used on an as-needed basis. They are compact, foldable, and can be easily stored in a closet or under a bed.
In the event of a fire or emergency, you can quickly deploy a portable escape ladder by hooking it onto a secure window sill or balcony railing.
You can then climb down the ladder to reach the ground safely.
On the other hand, permanent escape ladders are always accessible and do not require installation during an emergency.
Don’t have either one of these? Get them ASAP.
Creating a Fire Evacuation Plan
By now, you should have understood what causes fires, how to mitigate those same risks, and the equipment that will help you during an emergency.
With all of that out of the way, it’s time to develop your fire safety plan. All of your family members should be familiar with this plan to be fully prepared for an emergency.
And this is not just for fires. You should also have a flood-preparedness plan. Learn more about flood damage and flood safety measures.
Consider the following aspects when developing your fire evacuation plan:
- Plan and Map:
- Sketch a simple floor plan of your home or building, including all rooms, doors, windows, and exits. Use different symbols to indicate each exit, such as “X” for windows and “D” for doors.
- Designated Meeting Point:
- Choose a safe and easily accessible outdoor location as your designated meeting point. This spot should be at a safe distance from the building and should not obstruct emergency responders.
- Escape Routes:
- Identify two primary escape routes from each room in your home or building. Ensure these routes lead to an exit, such as a door or window (ensure you can safely leave your rooms through windows without injury).
- Fire Safety Equipment:
- Note the locations of fire extinguishers, fire blankets, escape ladders, and smoke detectors within the building.
- Alarm System:
- If the building has a fire alarm system, indicate its location and how to activate it.
- Escape Procedure:
- When the fire alarm sounds or a fire is discovered, leave the building immediately.
- Crawl low if there is smoke, as the air is cleaner near the floor.
- Close the doors behind you to slow down the spread of the fire.
- Do not use elevators during a fire.
- If you encounter smoke, use an alternative escape route if possible.
- Calling for Help:
- In the event of a fire, call the fire department.
- Assisting Others:
- If it’s safe to do so, help children, elderly individuals, and anyone with mobility issues evacuate.
- Plan for the evacuation of pets during a fire emergency too.
- Review and Update:
- Periodically review and update your fire evacuation plan as necessary, especially if you move.
That’s about it.
But please do not rely on this guide as your only source of information. Make sure to also read the following resources:
These measures are your best defense against fire. Although they’re often sudden and come out of nowhere, you can take some actionable steps to prevent most residential fire accidents.
Follow these guidelines and further educate yourself through the resources we’ve provided, and you should be good to go.
In case you’ve already experienced an emergency, make sure to call us to assist you with fire damage recovery. Our fire damage restoration experts are ready to respond to all fire damage emergencies as soon as the fire has been put out!