The observation of Fire Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association, occurs this year from October 7th through the 13th. In 2012, we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of this effort, created by President Woodrow Wilson. Fire Prevention Week was begun to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which in 1871 killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless and destroyed more than 17,400 homes, barns and other buildings.
It’s fitting to consider fire safety as fall begins because of special seasonal dangers that arise as school starts and the days begin to grow cooler. If you’ve recently sent your college-aged children off to their universities, you probably gave them a pep talk about studying hard, limiting alcohol and avoiding drugs. But did you think of reminding them of some common fire safety and prevention tips?
Each year there are 3,800 fires in college housing units. Students must be vigilant and observe the same fire safety precautions as a homeowner. Here are a few examples:
- If possible, look for the presence of sprinkler systems when evaluating housing options.
- Observe safe use of cooking and heating appliances.
- Exercise caution with candles.
- Don’t laugh off fire and other emergency drills – participate seriously and encourage others.
- Know how to call 911 or other emergency contact based on local instructions.
- Never ignore a fire alarm.
When colder weather approaches, many of us fire up a woodstove or fireplace for the first time. Before doing so, there are several precautions that must be taken for home safety.
Homeowners can do basic checks. Make sure the flue damper opens and closes completely, and that it locks properly in the open position. Check that the chimney is drawing well – you can do this by opening the damper and lighting a rolled piece of newspaper. Carefully hold the lit paper up into the chimney. You should see the smoke being drawn up. If it is not, your chimney may have a blockage.
Although your chimney may not need cleaning every year, let a professional make that call. All chimneys should be inspected annually as chimneys may deteriorate inside and out over time. Even if the fireplace is not in use, animals may have built nests inside. The inspector can determine if there is enough sooty residue for cleaning. Even chimneys where gas is used should be inspected. The inspector should also go on the roof of the home to check the flashing around the chimney.
Of course, the rules for safe use of fireplaces and wood stoves always include:
- Use only dry, well-seasoned wood that is at least a year old.
- Always operate with screens and other floor and wall safety features.
- Don’t be tempted to burn trash as these temperatures are higher and may cause burns and other injuries.
- Keep fire extinguishers handy.
- Keep smoke detectors in good working condition and replace batteries at least annually.
And, of course, at the very end of October comes Halloween, with its own unique fire dangers. When choosing children’s costumes, make sure they are well-fitting without a lot of extra, flowing material. It’s essential that the child has good visibility when navigating dark streets and houses, so look for masks and other headgear with large eyeholes. As homeowners, display carved pumpkins with day glow sticks or battery-operated lights inside. If candles are used, make sure they are well away from stairs and walkways.
You can find a wealth of information on Fire Prevention Week as well as fire safety and prevention material for home and business at www.nfpa.org. Prevention and knowing how to act in an emergency are key factors in eliminating or reducing injuries, deaths and property damage from fires.