Home Fire Prevention
October 1982

“Home Fire Prevention,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 61–63

Home Fire Prevention

Over 1900 home fires are reported daily in the United States alone, and 75 percent of all fire deaths happen in one- and two-family dwellings, mobile homes, and apartments. One half of the six-billion-dollar loss and two-thirds of fire-related deaths and injuries are in residences. In the U.S. the biggest cause of fire-related deaths is asphyxia, or smoke inhalation. Most fatal fires occur in homes while the residents are asleep. The facts represent the seriousness of home fires worldwide.

The following precautions can reduce the possibility of fire in your home and improve your chances of survival in case of fire. (Contact the fire prevention bureau at your local fire department for more details—including a possible home safety survey.)

1. Install and Maintain Smoke Detectors.

These give early warning and provide the single most effective defense against smoke, the biggest danger. Most fatal fires occur between midnight and 6:00 A.M., and, contrary to popular belief, the fire does not ordinarily awaken sleepers in time to escape. The biggest killer, carbon monoxide, is an odorless, tasteless, and invisible gas that quietly robs us of oxygen.

2. Practice EDITH (Exit Drills in the Home).

Fire reduces oxygen availability and adds poisonous gases and deadly smoke (the big killers). As a result, people do not think clearly, their actions are irrational. Children hide under the bed or in a closet; parents grab stuffed animals instead of their infants; adults claw at doors rather than turn knobs. Practicing beforehand what to do will help you do the right thing during a fire even if your thinking does become muddled. For details, refer to the accompanying chart.

Determine before the drills:

• Location of primary and secondary exits from each room.

• Who will be responsible for infants, the elderly, or the disabled.

• Who will phone the fire department.

Remember, even if you do not confirm the existence of a fire, when your smoke detector sounds get your family out of the house and call the fire department.

3. Keep a lid on grease fires.

Cooking-related fires rank consistently as the first or second cause of fire across the United States. Use a lid, another pan, or a breadboard to smother the flames in a pan. A multipurpose fire extinguisher will also work. NEVER use water or flour and never try to carry a pan of flaming grease! If there is a fire in the oven or the broiler, close the appliance door and turn off the power.

4. Use care in installing and using solid fuel devices.

Increased use of wood stoves and fireplaces is causing a dramatic increase in the number of home fires. If you’re planning to add or modify a wood-burning device, have it done properly, according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Once it is in use, have it checked and cleaned by a professional. In many communities the fire or building department will provide inspections; in some communities, inspections are mandatory.

5. Turn the water-heater thermostat down.

Children are extremely vulnerable to burns. Although children under five make up only 7 percent of the population (in the U.S.), they account for 17 percent of all deaths due to burns. In fact, we lose more children to burns than we do to cancer and infectious diseases.

The most common cause of burn deaths in young children is scald burns. Indeed, three-fourths of all burns are due to hot liquids. When a liquid is heated to 120°, a third-degree burn (the most serious) can result in five minutes; at 135°, ten seconds; and at 155°, one second!

Most water-heater thermostats are preset at 160° or “Hot.” At this temperature, a third-degree burn could result after only one second of exposure! Tap water, a cup of hot water, or a bowl of soup can prove deadly. A setting of “Low” or “Warm” will keep the water hot enough to perform household tasks.

In one family a one-year-old child, who was left alone in the bathtub while the babysitter went looking for an older child, turned on the hot water. She was severely scalded and had to be rushed to the hospital. In order to save her life, doctors had to amputate both legs at the knees. That was three years ago. The girl is a happy, playful child now, but the parents report: “The first thing we learned was to turn down the thermostat on our water heater. A lot of friends who lived through this horrible tragedy with us have also turned theirs down.”

6. Never leave a child alone in a bathroom or a kitchen, even for a minute.

Most children’s burns occur when the parent is under stress, busy, or preoccupied, or while the child is under the supervision of someone other than the parents. Another good idea is to keep pot handles away from children’s reach.

7. Practice Stop, Drop, and Roll.

In 1980, every child admitted to hospitals in Massachusetts with serious burns due to clothing fires had reacted in the same way: scream, panic, and run. Running fans the flames and magnifies the problem. To reduce available oxygen and combustible surface, stop and drop to the ground or floor. Rolling, especially with a blanket, coat, or rug, smothers the flames. Covering the face with the hands protects the eyes and other areas such as the lungs. Practice stop, drop, and roll with the entire family.

8. Keep an ABC fire extinguisher in your home.

In most cases of fire, you should simply exit the building and call the fire department. However, there may be an occasion when a fire extinguisher will be needed. A multipurpose type is good for almost any kind of fire. Learn how to use it as soon as you get one. Keep it handy and recharge it immediately after use. If you test it, recharging is required.

9. Remove multi-electrical cords and cube taps.

Multi-electrical cords and cube taps have plug-in units that increase the number of electrical devices that can be plugged into one outlet. Plugging more electrical devices into an outlet than the outlet was designed for can overload the circuit and cause fires. Make certain you have no such electrical “spaghetti factories” in your house. Furthermore, any wiring that is frayed or worn should be replaced. Check Christmas lighting each year before using it.

10. Store and handle flammable liquids properly.

Keep gasoline and other flammable liquids away from children’s reach and from areas where fumes can be ignited. Fumes are the big hazard. Hot-water heaters and gas engines are notorious for starting gasoline fires. Static electricity can also ignite the fumes, which are heavier than air and gather along the floor and other low places.

11. Cool the burns.

When you get burned, get cool water on the burn as soon as possible. Regardless of the cause or severity, cool water stops the burning, reduces pain, and lessens the swelling. In the case of burned clothing, remove all items that are not sticking to the flesh. If there is any concern about the severity of the burn, keep the burn cool and seek medical help.

Finally, support the efforts of your local fire department to educate the public in fire safety. All fires can’t be prevented, but many deaths caused by them can be. Robert Leinbach, Arlington, Virginia