As temperatures drop, the American Red Cross reminds people that heating is the second leading cause of home fires, deaths and injuries in the United States, and December, January and February are the peak months for heating fires.
The American Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters year - one every eight minutes - and most of them are home fires. Home fires can happen quickly - devastating lives and property. But unlike other disasters, most home fires can be prevented. Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out.
“The Red Cross recommends two easy steps to help protect your home and to increase your chances of surviving a fire: create and practice a fire escape plan, and install and maintain smoke alarms,” said Rachelle Lipker, executive director of the American Red Cross Central & Western Nebraska.
Home fire plans should include at least two ways to escape from every room of your home.
Select a meeting spot at a safe distance from your home where family members can meet after a fire. Discuss the plan with everyone in the household and practice it at least twice a year. Make sure that you practice that plan until every member of your household can escape in less than two minutes.
Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Place smoke alarms on every level of your home, including inside and outside bedrooms. Test smoke alarms once a month. Change the batteries at least once a year - if your model requires it. Teach children what the smoke alarm sounds like and practice escaping your home in two minutes or less. Never disable a smoke alarm.
The Red Cross continues to help save lives with our nationwide Home Fire Campaign to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent. The Red Cross works with community partners and local fire departments across the country to install smoke alarms and conduct fire safety education for families in need. Visit redcross.org to find out more about how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your home from fire.
The Red Cross First Aid App provides life-saving information on what to do for common, everyday first aid emergencies including burns. The app is available in your smartphone’s app store.
SAFETY TIPS FOR USING SPACE HEATERS AND OTHER HEATING SOURCES
Space heaters, fireplaces or wood and coal stoves can pose a fire hazard. Heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fire deaths, which increase during the winter months of December, January and February. The Red Cross offers the following fire prevention tips:
• All heaters need space. Keep children, pets and things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.
• If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as a ceramic tile floor) – not on rugs, carpets, near bedding or drapes.
• Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.
• Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.
• Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces and chimneys inspected annually by a professional and cleaned if necessary.
• Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
• Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
HIGH-RISE APARTMENT & CONDOMINIUM SAFETY
Even though high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums are more likely to have sprinklers and fire alarms, it’s still critical to be prepared and have a fire escape plan. The Red Cross recommends that people living in multi-unit buildings take the following steps:
• Learn the fire safety features of the building, including fire alarms, sprinklers and evacuation plans.
• Make sure all exits are clearly marked and not blocked.
• Know the locations of all available exit stairwells on the floor, as one or more of the exits might be blocked by fire.
• Those with disabilities, access or functional needs, should learn where the closest area of safe refuge is.
• Identify a meeting place outside and away from the building.
If smoke or fire enters your unit and you cannot immediately evacuate, call 9-1-1 to report your location.
• Open a window slightly and wave a bright cloth or a light at night to identify your location.
• If smoke enters the unit, stay low to the floor to breathe the best air.
AVOID CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless and silent killer that claims hundreds of lives each year in the U.S. A year-round threat, carbon monoxide poisoning tends to increase when storms and power outages force people to turn to unsafe alternative heat sources such as fuel-burning appliances, gas generators, camp stoves and charcoal grills and use them in confined spaces. The Red Cross urges households to follow these safety recommendations:
• Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas (avoid corners where air does not circulate) and test the alarm every month.
• Have heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually, checking for blockages, corrosion, and partial or complete disconnections.
• Never use a generator, grill or camp stove inside a home, garage or basement.
• Do not use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
• Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, move quickly to a fresh air location, and then call 9-1-1.
• Treat the alarm signal as a real emergency each time. If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, get to fresh air. Move outdoors, by an open window or near an open door. Make sure everyone in the home gets to fresh air. Call 9-1-1 from a fresh air location.
TALK WITH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT FIRE SAFETY
According to a Red Cross survey, most parents (64 percent) believe their children would know what to do or how to escape a burning home with little help. However, only about 52 percent of parents have talked to their families about fire safely and only 10 percent of families have actually practiced home fire drills. This false sense of security can put families at risk. The Red Cross recommends that adults:
• Develop and practice your home fire escape plan with your children at least twice a year.
• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Having a working smoke alarm reduces the risk of dying in a home fire by nearly half.
• Familiarize children with the sound of your smoke alarm and teach them what to do when they hear it.
• Keep matches, lighters and other ignitable substances in a secured location out of the reach of children.
• Always dress children in pajamas that meet federal flammability standards. Avoid loose-fitting, 100-percent cotton garments.
• Teach your children not to be afraid of firefighters. Take them to your local fire department to meet them, see the gear they wear, and learn about fire safety and prevention.
• Teach your children to tell you or a responsible adult when they find matches or lighters at home or school.
• Check under beds and in closets for burnt matches; evidence your child may be playing with fire.
POWER OUTAGE SAFETY
Sudden power outages can be frustrating, especially when they last more than a few hours. Using alternative light sources with open flames can increase the risk of a home fire, yet a Red Cross survey showed that more than a third of people surveyed (36 percent) use candles for light during a power outage. The Red Cross recommends that people use battery operated flashlights or lanterns instead of candles. In addition, the Red Cross offers the following tips to keep you and your family safe during a power outage:
• Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.
• If using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away. Turn off space heaters and make sure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed.
• If using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
• Don’t use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside the home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
• Don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. People should connect the equipment they need to power directly to the outlets on the generator.
• Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Use perishable food from the fridge first, then use food from the freezer. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours if the door remains closed.
• If it looks like the power will be out for more than a day, prepare a cooler with ice for freezer items. Keep food covered in a dry, cool spot.