Stay fire smart—don’t get burned

By Tyler J. Moffitt
The Safety Advocate

This year’s theme for Fire Prevention Week is “Stay Fire Smart–Don’t Get Burned.”
The top three leading causes of fires are cooking, heating, and cooling appliances and electrical wiring. Ways to reduce these fires include:
•Watch what you heat (stay in the kitchen when cooking, especially if using oil or high temperatures);
•Plug space heaters and other heavy appliances directly into an electrical outlet; and
•Avoid running cords under rugs, which can damage the cord and cause a fire.
Most fatal fire occur late at night when people are asleep. Often, victims never wake up because the deadly blanket of smoke descends quietly.
A working smoke alarm will detect smoke and sound an alarm to alert you—giving you precious time to escape.
Here is some valuable information on smoke alarms, which I gathered from professional fire safety resources:
There are smoke alarms available with different features and applications, so choosing the right one can be confusing.
Some of the features to consider include:
•Power source
Smoke alarms can be electrically-powered, battery-powered, or a combination of both.
If you are installing an electrically-powered alarm, it is recommended that it have a battery back-up in case of power failures.
•Technology
Most smoke alarms employ either ionization or photoelectric technology.
Ionization alarms may respond slightly faster to flaming-type fires while photoelectric alarms may be quicker at detecting slow, smouldering ones.
•Pause feature
Smoke alarms with a pause button are highly recommended as it permits the alarm to be temporarily silenced without disconnecting the power source.
Remember, smoke alarms must be installed on each level of the home, as well as outside sleeping areas. Because smoke rises, smoke alarms should be installed on the ceiling.
If this is not possible, install the alarm high up on a wall according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Avoid putting smoke alarms too close to bathrooms, windows, ceiling fans, and heating and cooking appliances.
As well, be sure to test your smoke alarms monthly by using the test button on the alarm.
When the test button is pressed, the alarm should sound. If it fails to sound, make sure the battery is installed correctly or install a new one.
If the alarm still fails to sound, replace the smoke alarm with a new one.
You should install a new battery at least once a year, or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Install a new battery if the low-battery warning sounds or if the alarm fails to sound when tested.
Dust can clog your smoke alarms. As such, battery-powered smoke alarms should be cleaned by opening the cover of the alarm and gently vacuuming the inside with a soft bristle brush.
For electrically-connected smoke alarms, first shut off the power to the unit and then gently vacuum the outside vents of the alarm only.
Turn the power back on and test the alarm.
Smoke alarms don’t last forever! All smoke alarms wear out. If your alarms are more than 10 years old, replace them with new ones (10 years is more than 87,000 hours of continued use).
Steam from the shower or cooking in the oven, stove, or toaster can cause smoke alarms to activate. If these types of nuisance alarms occur, do not remove the battery.
Rather, there are several options you can try to reduce nuisance alarms:
•Relocate the alarm (sometimes moving the alarm just a few inches can make the difference);
•Install a smoke alarm with a pause button that will allow you to temporarily silence the alarm; and
•Replace alarms located near kitchens with photoelectric types.
Finally, make sure everyone knows the sound of the smoke alarm and what to do if it activates. Create an escape plan with the entire household and practise it.
Make sure your plan identifies two ways out of each room, if possible, and a meeting place outside.
Once outside, stay outside. Never re-enter a burning building. Call the fire department from a neighbour’s home or cell phone.
In conclusion, here is a wise statement by an individual with a lot of fire service experience—Ontario Fire Marshal Paul Burke:
“In some fires, occupants have less than a minute to escape their homes. With a limited timeframe to escape, everyone needs to practise fire safety in their homes, such as having working smoke alarms on every storey of their home and outside all sleeping areas, and having a home fire escape plan to ensure everyone knows what do in a fire.”
Tyler J. Moffitt is a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder, as well as a continuous improvement advocate.

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