Be sure your home is safe.

Being prepared is the best way to protect your family from a fire. So know the rules of fire prevention, stock your home with fire-safety items, and make sure your kids know what to do in a fire. A few minutes of planning now may save lives later on.

Electrical Appliances, Cords and Outlets

  • Are your electrical appliances in good condition, without loose or frayed cords or plugs?
  • Are your outlets overloaded with plugs from the TV, computer, printer, video game system and stereo?
  • Are you overusing an extension cord?
  • Do the light fixtures in your home use bulbs that are the correct wattage?
  • Does your home contain GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) and/or AFCIs (arc fault circuit interrupters), which prevent electrical shock and fire by shutting off faulty circuits?

Look around your house for potential problems. And unless you’re a trained electrician, be careful about do-it-yourself electrical projects. Studies have shown that many home fires are caused by improper installation of electrical devices.

Other tips:

  • Replace or professionally repair any appliances that spark, smell unusual or overheat
  • Don’t run electrical wires under rugs
  • Make sure lamps and nightlights are not touching bedspreads, drapes or other fabrics
  • Use caution when using electric blankets
  • Don’t let kids use kitchen appliances by themselves and supervise any art or science projects that involve electrical devices
  • Cover any outlets that are not in use with plastic safety covers if you have toddlers or young children in your home

Portable Heaters

The number of residential fires always goes up during colder months, peaking between December and February. Portable space heaters substantially contribute to this increase. Before plugging in your space heater, make sure you know how to use it safely:

  • Carefully read the directions for your heater’s use
  • Never place a space heater where a child or pet could accidentally knock it over
  • Never place a space heater too close to a bed, especially a child’s bed
  • Keep newspapers, magazines, curtains, clothes or bedding away from space heaters, radiators, and fireplaces
  • Heaters should be at least 3 feet from anything flammable.

Kitchen Safety

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States. The kitchen is full of ways for a fire to start: food left unsupervised on a stove, or in an oven or microwave; grease spills; a dish towel too close to the burner; a toaster or toaster oven flare-up; a coffee pot accidentally left on.

Always supervise kids while cooking and practice safe cooking habits—like turning all pot handles in so they can’t be accidentally knocked over and not wearing loose-fitting clothing that could catch fire around the stove.

Fireplaces should be kept clean and covered with a screen to keep sparks from jumping out. Only wood should be burned in the fireplace—paper and other materials can escape while burning and ignite nearby items. Never leave a fire burning unattended, and make sure a fire is completely extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed. Have the chimney professionally cleaned once a year.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), cigarettes are the number one cause of fire deaths in the United States and Canada, killing about 1,000 people per year. Most are started when ashes or butts fall into couches and chairs. If you smoke, be especially careful around upholstered furniture, never smoke in bed, and be sure cigarettes are completely out before you toss them into the trash.

You’ve heard it again and again, but playing with matches is still the leading cause of fire-related deaths and injuries for kids younger than 5. Always keep matches and lighters out of childrens’ reach.

Flammable Liquids
And store flammable materials such as gasoline, kerosene and cleaning supplies outside of your home and away from kids.

Keep lit candles out of reach of kids and pets, away from curtains and furniture, and extinguish them before you go to bed. Make sure candles are in sturdy holders made of non-flammable material that won’t tip over. And don’t let older kids and teens use candles unsupervised in their rooms.

Holiday Dangers
Around the holidays, there are even more potential fire hazards to think about. If you use a real Christmas tree in your home, make sure to water it daily—electric lights strung on a dried-out tree are a recipe for disaster.
All lights and lighted window ornaments should be inspected every year to make sure that cords are not worn or frayed, and all candles should be used with care. According to the NFPA, the number of fires started by candles nearly doubles during the month of December.

Smoke Alarms
Having a smoke alarm in the house cuts your risk of dying in a fire in half. Almost 60% of all fatal residential fires occur in homes that don’t have smoke alarms, so this may be the single most important thing you can do to keep your family safe from fires.

• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and in each bedroom
• If possible, choose alarms with a 10-year lithium battery. If your smoke alarm uses regular batteries, remember to replace them every year (hint: change your batteries when you change your clock back from Daylight Saving Time in the fall)
• Test your smoke alarms monthly, and be sure your kids are familiar with the sound of the alarm
• Because smoke rises, smoke detectors should always be placed on ceilings or high on walls
• If a smoke detector near the kitchen goes off while you’re cooking, do not take the battery out of it—you may forget to replace it. Open the doors and windows instead. You might also consider installing a rate-of-rise heat detector for places like the kitchen, where smoke or steam from cooking are likely to cause false alarms. These alarms can sense when the temperature reaches a set critical point or when it rises by more than a certain number of degrees a minute.
• If you’re having a new home built or remodeling an older home, you may want to consider adding a home sprinkler system
• If your smoke alarm does not also have a carbon monoxide detector, add one of those as well on every level of your home

Fire Extinguishers

Be prepared for any accidents by having fire extinguishers strategically placed around your house—at least one on each floor and in the kitchen (this one should be an all-purpose extinguisher, meaning it can be used on grease and electrical fires), the basement, the garage and workshop areas. Keep them out of reach of children.

Fire extinguishers are best used when a fire is contained in a small area, like a wastebasket, and when the fire department has already been called. The NFPA says to remember the word PASS when operating an extinguisher:

  • Pull the pin. Release the lock with the nozzle pointing away from you.
  • Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

The best time to learn how to use the fire extinguisher is now, before you ever need it (if you have any questions, the local fire department can help). Fire extinguishers have gauges on them indicating when they need to be replaced, and should be checked regularly to make sure they’re still functional.

If you’re ever in doubt about whether to use an extinguisher on a fire, don’t try it. Instead, leave the house immediately and call the fire department.

Carbon Monoxide 
Carbon monoxide poisoning is another indoor danger. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by wood- or gas-fueled appliances (such as heaters, stoves, water heaters or dryers) that don’t burn properly. It can also be produced by charcoal grills, automobiles and fireplaces.

Feeling very tired (more than usual), having long-lasting headaches and nausea or dizziness are some symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Sometimes people may think they have the flu. You should also be suspicious if other people in the house are experiencing these same symptoms at the same time.

Install CO detectors in the home near bedrooms and sleeping areas. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation, testing, and replacement of CO detectors.

If people are feeling ill and the CO alarm goes off, get out of the house immediately and call 911. Do not go back into the home until the fire department gives you the OK.

A few other tips to prevent CO exposure:

  • Never keep a car on and running in the garage, even if the garage door is open
  • The home should not be heated with the range or oven
  • If you have a charcoal grill, use it outdoors only
  • The home’s heating system and chimney should be checked by a professional every year