Escaping from a fire, or a smoke-filled room, may be the furthest thing from your mind right now.
But the cold weather returning means, for many of us, a return to space heaters, electric blankets, baseboard heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, humidifiers and, too often, overloaded extension cords.
Eighty-two percent of all fire deaths and injuries occur at home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and we aging Gimpy adults are among the highest at risk. So take a minute and read on to remember what it takes to stay safe in your home from fire.
Space Heaters: Before you plug in your space heater for the first time this season, give it a good once over: Check the cord for fraying and remove any dust that has collected around the heating elements. Give the heater a test run for half an hour at all fan speeds and temperatures to see if it is performing normally.
Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from anything, including people. Follow the manufacturers’ directions regarding operation, fueling, and maintenance of your space heater. Do not use heaters or other heating devices to dry clothing or shoes.
Electric Blankets: If your electric blanket is beat, get rid of it – especially if it is a electric blanket made to go under the sheets. (In one federal study from England, faulty electrical blankets and under blankets were found to be the cause of 50 percent of the fires in which Gimpy people were burned or died.)
Check the tag on your blanket to see that it has overheating protection. Resist washing electric blankets as dampness can damage their electrical circuitry and cause them to catch fire.
Small Appliances: If they begin to smell suspicious or emit smoke, unplug them immediately. Check for and replace frayed or broken electrical cords. Never use an appliance with exposed wires.
Never overload extension cords, and keep them out of high traffic areas. Use only tested and UL-listed electric appliance. Buy an iron that automatically shuts off if tipped over or left on untouched more than a couple of minutes.
Cooking: If your memory is iffy, consider having an electrician install a simple timer on your stove that shuts it off if you forget. Rather than use a tea kettle on the stove, buy an electric water kettle. They heat up quickly and shut down automatically at the boiling point.
If you’re going to cook, stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on the stove. Turn it off if you step away to answer the phone, check the laundry, get the mail, etc.
Wear snug-fitting sleeves when cooking and keep towels and pot holders several feet away from burners. If food or grease catches fire, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the heat. Do not use water to extinguish a grease fire.
Make sure the stove is kept clean and free of grease buildup. Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove so they cannot be knocked off or pulled down. Keep a small fire extinguisher nearby.
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.
Fireplaces: Have your chimneys checked and cleaned annually by a professional. Open fireplaces can be hazardous. They should be covered with a tight screen or tempered glass doors and guarded by a raised hearth 9 to 18 inches high.
Smoke Alarms: Smoke detectors should be outside bedrooms or in all sleeping areas and on every level of your home, including the basement. Test your smoke detectors regularly and change the batteries once a year or if the detector is “chirping”.
If you or any member of your household is deaf or hard of hearing install a smoke alarm that uses a flashing light or vibration along with the sound alarm. One model uses a strobe light alarm to alert hearing-impaired people of danger. The remote strobe light can be mounted in a bedroom even though the detector may be located in another room or hallway, giving the same advantage of early warning available to hearing people when an alarm sounds from outside the bedroom.
Plan your escape: Know two ways out. Plan escape routes from every room in your home. During a fire, smoke or flames may block an exit, forcing you to use an alternative escape route.
Know how to unlock doors and windows. Windows should open with ease to allow escape. Walk through an emergency exit drill at night to identify and eliminate obstructions.
If you live in an apartment building, count the number of doorways between your apartment and the two nearest exits. This will be helpful when escaping fire in the dark. No matter where you live, be familiar with all exits.
If you find yourself in smoke, stay near the floor and cover your face with a wet cloth, if possible, as you leave. If your clothing catches fire, stop, drop and roll. If someone else catches fire, throw a blanket or a coat over them to smother the flames.
Smoking: Never smoke in bed or near a gas stove or an oxygen source. Never leave cigarettes or cigars unattended and use large, deep ashtrays. Soak the ashes in the ashtray before discarding them.