5 Fire Safety Tips For Your Home

Equipping your home with the right fire safety equipment can help you gain precious seconds in a fire emergency. Be sure your home includes the following equipment, that you (and your family) know how to use it.

What to Include in Your Home Fire Safety Kit

1. Smoke Alarms
The single most important piece of fire safety equipment you can have in your home is a smoke alarm. A properly working smoke alarm can cut your risk of dying in a fire by half.1 Be sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your house, especially outside rooms where family members sleep. Test and clean them with a vacuum every month, and replace the batteries twice a year. And install new smoke alarms every 10 years.

2. Automatic Fire Sprinkler System
It’s important to note that an automatic fire sprinkler system won’t necessarily extinguish every fire that starts in your home. But it will reduce the amount of harmful smoke and gases so you can get out of the house. Some sprinkler systems can also be connected to your alarm system, so it’ll call the fire department if a fire starts.

3. Fire Extinguisher
You should have at least one fire extinguisher in your home. Extinguishers with A-B-C ratings are effective against ignited cloth, wood, paper, rubber, and plastics (A), flammable liquids like gasoline, alcohol and oil-based paints (B), and energized electrical equipment (C).

What to do when using a fire extinguisher:

  • First call the fire department.
  • Use an extinguisher only on small fires with minimal smoke.
  • If you’re dealing with a liquid fire, use the extinguisher only if you can eliminate of the source of fuel. Otherwise, immediately get out of the house.
  • Remember “PASS”: Pull the pin. Aim low. Squeeze. Sweep.
  • If you can’t put out the fire within the eight seconds it takes to empty the extinguisher, take immediate steps to get out safely.

4. Fire Escape Ladders
If you have a two-story (or more) home, you need fire escape ladders in every upstairs bedroom. They come folded into permanent or portable boxes that you can store under a window or bed. During a fire, if all other exits are blocked, you can drop the ladder out of the window and climb down to safety. Fire escape ladders are either 15 feet (for second-story windows) or 25 feet long (third floor).

Pro Tip: Make sure your ladder has a stable standoff, which is the support arm system at the top that holds the ladder away from the side of the house to steadies it and make escape quicker for you.

5. Fireproof Safe
The most valuable of your possessions should be in a safety deposit box at the bank. But if there are certain things you want to protect and also keep close, you need a fireproof safe. Depending on what’s kept in there, you can get a safe that’s guaranteed not to get hotter than 125 degrees (DVDs, computer disks) or 350 degrees (papers). Most fireproof safes offer 30 minutes of protection.

Once you have all of the right fire safety equipment in place, don’t forget to create and practice your home fire escape plan. Having the right fire safety equipment can help reduce your family’s risk of injury and property damage due to a serious fire. Or at the very least, you’ll be warned and have time to get out.

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Washer & Dryer Maintenance

Washers and dryers were involved in one out of every 22 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments between 2006 and 2010. Incidents of clothes dryer fires are higher in the fall and winter months and peak in January, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The leading cause of clothes dryer fires is a failure to clean the dryer of dust, fiber and lint. Lint is highly combustible and can lead to reduced airflow, posing a fire hazard in clothes dryers.Here are several safety tips for properly maintaining your washer and dryer:

Ensure proper installation
Be sure to have your washer and dryer installed and serviced by a professional. Check your washer and dryer manuals to ensure that your electrical outlet is appropriate for your plugs. If you have a gas dryer, have it inspected by a professional to make sure the gas line and connection are working properly and don’t have leaks.

Maintain the lint filter
Always clean the lint filter before drying each load of laundry. If you are drying a new item that creates a lot of lint, such as a bath towel or bath mat, consider drying it for half a cycle and then pause to clean out the lint filter before continuing to dry the item. Regularly check the dryer’s drum for lint accumulation.

Inspect the vent
The dryer vent is located outside of your house. It’s a good idea to periodically check to make sure air is coming out of the vent while clothes are drying. If no air is coming out of the vent, turn off the dryer and inspect the vent for blockage. Accumulated lint, a bird’s nest or even small animals can block vents.

Check the exhaust duct
Make sure the duct that runs from the back of your dryer to your wall and outside to your dryer vent isn’t clogged with lint or debris. If there is a blockage, you may have to remove the duct to clean it out. Consult with a professional before making any changes to your dryer’s exhaust duct.

Basic washer and dryer safety tips
Follow these basic safety tips when using your washer and dryer.

  • Don’t overload.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions.
  • Don’t run the washer or dryer when you aren’t home or when you are sleeping.
  • Keep the entire area clean and free of clutter, boxes and other materials.
  • Don’t store items on the top of the washer and dryer.
  • Consult the operating instructions prior to washing or drying an item that has been soiled with chemicals such as gasoline, cooking oil or paint.

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Identifying & Testing Fire Alarms – Part 2

Now that we’ve discussed the types of fire alarms found in many home and small businesses, let’s see how to test them.

How to Test It
You should always check the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper method of testing your smoke detector and fire alarm. But, in general, most battery-powered and hardwired smoke detectors can be tested in the following way:

Step 1. Alert family members that you will be testing the alarm. Smoke detectors have a high-pitched alarm that may frighten small children, so you’ll want to let everyone know you plan to test the alarms to help avoid frightening anyone.

Step 2. Station a family member at the furthest point away from the alarm in your home. This can be critical to help make sure the alarm can be heard everywhere in your home. You may want to install extra detectors in areas where the alarm’s sound is low, muffled or weak.

Step 3. Press and hold the test button on the smoke detector. It can take a few seconds to begin, but a loud, ear-piercing siren should emanate from the smoke detector while the button is pressed. If the sound is weak or nonexistent, replace your batteries. If it has been more than six months since you last replaced the batteries (whether your detector is battery-powered or hardwired), change them now regardless of the test result, and test the new batteries one final time to help ensure proper functioning. You should also look at your smoke detector to make sure there’s no dust or other substance blocking its grates, which may prevent it from working even if the batteries are new.

Remember, smoke detectors have a normal life span of 10 years, according to the USFA. Even if you’ve performed regular maintenance, and your device is still functional, you should replace a smoke detector after the 10-year period or earlier, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. Installing smoke detectors can be a great way to help keep your family safe, but assuming they are working may lead to a dangerous situation. Taking a few minutes to check them regularly can help ensure they’re working properly.

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Taking Home Inventory

As we enter the New Year, it might just be the perfect time to take stock of your material possessions. Did you get a great gift for the holidays? Maybe a diamond ring, a new musical instrument or a beautiful watch? All of these items should be insured, and, just as importantly, added to your home inventory.  If a fire or major water loss should occur in your home, or if you become a victim to thieves, not having these items removed may not get you compensated.

What is a home inventory, you ask? Once created, it will be the most valuable item in your house.

The first step is to make a record of every item in your house that you would want and expect to be covered by your insurance. This list should include your computers, TVs, jewelry, antiques, china, art, furniture, gardening equipment, tools and many other things. Include serial numbers if you have them, and take pictures of each item. Mark down the item’s condition, and how much you paid for it (including a receipt image would be ideal).

Another way to approach this is to create a home inventory video. Videotape all of the valuable items in your home, making sure to zoom in on the smaller items. You should still document, whether by video, in an accompanying report or in a mobile app, their serial numbers and other identifying markers. The more specificity you include, the more likely you’ll be able to get a claim filed quickly, and at the right amount, should anything ever happen to your stuff.

In addition, there are several software programs and apps available to help you create a home inventory. However you choose to make yours, it’s important to back up this information and store a copy outside your home, just in case your home is severely damaged.

This is an opportunity to learn the real value of your items, especially art and jewelry, and serves as a reminder to get them appraised often. The value of these types of items can go up over time, so you should also make sure they are insured for the right amount. Be sure to check with your independent agent that your policy covers all your belongings, even the most personal and valuable items.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

A fire is a fire, and a fire extinguisher is a fire extinguisher, right? Well, not quite. There are actually different types of fires and different types of extinguishers that respond best to each. So, which is right for you? We’ll get to that, but first let’s look at the five different fire types, as outlined by the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association:

  • Class A: Fires in ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, cloth, etc.
  • Class B: Fires in flammable liquids, like gasoline, or flammable gasses, such as propane.
  • Class C: Fires in energized electrical equipment, such as appliances or motors.
  • Class D: Fires in combustible metals.
  • Class K: Fires in cooking oils and greases, such as animal and vegetable fats.

Selecting a Fire Extinguisher

For each fire class, there’s a fire extinguisher to match, and it’s important to use the right one. For example, an extinguisher rated for Class B fires only might not be appropriate to use on another fire. In fact, it might even be dangerous. So, how do you pick a fire extinguisher? Do you need several? A good bet is a multipurpose extinguisher, which typically is rated for Class A, B and C fires and available at home improvement stores. This type of extinguisher is typically good for general living areas and will work on small grease fires, as well. Specialized kitchen extinguishers are available, too. (Note: Class K extinguishers are typically for large commercial kitchens.)

No matter which type you choose, you want:

  • An extinguisher that’s large enough to put out a small fire but not too heavy to handle safely.
  • One that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory.
  • One for each level of your home, as well as in the garage.

Using a Fire Extinguisher

Before you use a fire extinguisher — or try to fight a fire with any method — make sure you consider the following questions:

  • Is the fire small and contained?
  • Are you safe from toxic smoke?
  • Do you have a way to escape?
  • Do your instincts tell you it’s OK?

If you’ve answered “yes” to those questions, the National Fire Protection Association recommends remembering “P.A.S.S.” when it’s time to use your extinguisher:

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever.
  • Sweep the hose from side to side. Once the fire is out, remain aware, because it can re-ignite.

Maintaining a Fire Extinguisher

It’s easy to just put an extinguisher in your kitchen cabinet and forget about it. But, by doing that, you run the risk of it not working when you need it most. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, some need to be shaken monthly, and others need to be pressure tested periodically. Follow the instructions on your specific extinguisher. Also, check regularly to make sure it’s not damaged, rusted or dirty.

Remember, a fire extinguisher won’t do you any good if it doesn’t work, and it won’t help if you can’t get to it, either. So, ensure it’s in an accessible place, not buried in the back of a closet. Finally, don’t ever forget that sometimes your best bet is not using an extinguisher at all. It’s using your family escape plan to get you and your loved ones out of danger. If there’s any doubt, get out!

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The year-end holidays can be a time for beautiful home decorations, but the Consumer Products Safety Commission warns of an increasing number of injuries from consumers stringing up festive lights and other holiday decorating activities. During November and December 2010, CPSC estimates that more than 13,000 people were treated in emergency departments nationwide due to injuries involving holiday decorations. This is an increase from 10,000 in 2007 and 12,000 in 2008 and in 2009.

Estimates of deaths and injuries related to fires from Christmas trees and lit candles are down, but there are still an alarming number of incidents says the CPSC. Between 2006 and 2008, there was an annual average of four deaths and $18 million in property damage related to Christmas tree fires. During this same time period, CPSC received reports of about 130 deaths and $360 million in property losses related to candle fires.

The CPSC has UL suggest the following 12 safety tips to help keep your holiday home safe this year:

  1. Check for freshness when buying a live Christmas tree. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and don’t break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin and, when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  2. Keep trees away from heat sources. Fireplaces, vents, and radiators can rapidly dry out live trees and increase the risk of flammability. Be sure to keep the tree stand filled with water and monitor water levels daily. Place the tree out of the way of foot traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
  3. Check for a “Fire Resistant” label when buying an artificial tree. It indicates the fake tree is more resistant to catching fire. But still exercise caution since an artificial tree, like a live evergreen, can still catch fire.
  4. Avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations when trimming a tree with children. Keep trimmings with small removable parts or ones that resemble food or candy out of children’s reach to avoid choking dangers.
  5. Keep burning candles within sight. Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
  6. Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface. Chose a place where kids and pets cannot reach or knock over burning candles. Lit candles should also be placed away from flammable items—trees, decorations, curtains and furniture.
  7. Use only lights that have been tested by nationally-recognized laboratories, such as UL. Decorative indoor and outdoor lights must meet strict requirements. UL’s red holographic label signifies that the light decorations meets safety requirements for indoor and outdoor usage. UL’s green holographic label signifies the lights are safe for indoor use only.
  8. Check each set of lights for damage. Discard decorative light sets with broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  9. Check each extension cord to make sure it is rated for the intended use. Indoor extension cords should not be used for outside lights.
  10. Check outdoor lights for labels showing that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.
  11. “Fire salts” should be used with care. The salts, which produce colored flames when thrown into lit fireplaces, contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed. Keep them away from children.
  12. Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

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Thanksgiving Safety

For most, the kitchen is the heart of the home, especially during the holidays. From testing family recipes to decorating cakes and cookies, everyone enjoys being part of the preparations. So keeping fire safety top of mind in the kitchen during this joyous but hectic time is important, especially when there’s a lot of activity and people at home. As you start preparing your holiday schedule and organizing that large family feast, remember, by following a few simple safety tips you can enjoy time with your loved ones and keep yourself and your family safer from fire.

Thanksgiving By The Numbers

  • Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.
  • In 2014, nearly four times as many home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving as on a typical day.
  • In 2014, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,730 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving, the peak day for such fires.
  • Unattended cooking was by far the leading contributing factor in cooking fires and fire deaths.
  • Cooking equipment was involved in almost half (48%) of all reported home fires and civilian and tied with heating equipment for the second leading cause of home fire deaths.

Safety Tips

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

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