Let’s talk about fire prevention. October is fire prevention month — which makes sense, since most structure fires happen in the winter. Cold weather means we crank up the heat, plug in the electric blankets, and warm up the space heaters — all of which carry high fire dangers. We’re doing pretty much all of those things here at McNabola Law Group, where we’re gearing up for another infamous Chicago winter. But we’re taking extra precautions to be safe — and think you should too. Here are some tips.
Buy, install, and test smoke detectors. It’s a critical first step in any fire preparedness plan, and it couldn’t be easier.
If you’ve already got smoke alarms on every floor, regularly make sure they’re in working order. It is literally as simple as pushing a button. The hardest part of testing your smoke detectors might be remembering to do it — which is why you should just add it to your daylight savings time routine. Fall back an hour on the microwave clock, test the smoke detector. All set.
Make a fire escape plan — and practice it. We do fire drills at school and at work. Why don’t we do them at home, too?
You should draw up a family evacuation plan that includes at least two ways to get out of each room in the house. Pick a meetup point outside the house for everyone to gather once they’re out. Then, practice! Once or twice a year, get the family together, hit the test button on the smoke detector, and get everyone outside.
Teach kids to “fall and crawl” — the biggest danger in a structure fire is smoke, rather than fire. By staying close to the ground, you significantly reduce the amount of toxic smoke you breathe in while escaping. Plus, it’s much easier to see if you’re under the smoke layer.
Don’t forget — communications are a vital part of the fire plan. Establish a family emergency communications plan and make sure everyone in your household knows who to contact if they cannot find one another. And, of course, make sure everyone knows how to call 911.
Do what you can to prevent fires in the first place. Like so many things we talk about on the blog, it’s a series of small steps that can make a big difference.
• Take kitchen safety seriously. Almost half of home fires every year are caused by cooking. Never leave anything unattended while it’s cooking, keep anything flammable (like towels) well clear of the cooktop, and don’t let kids anywhere near cooking materials.
• Don’t leave space heaters running unattended, and make sure to leave a 3-foot buffer zone around a heater. Read more about space heater safety in this blog post.
• Keep matches and lighters where children can’t get at them.
• Don’t overload outlets or extension cords. Remember that extension cords are designed to be used for a short amount of time.
• Make sure combustible materials are far away from any heat sources.
Taken together, all these little steps can make a huge impact. Remember how popular “stop, drop, and roll” was in schools in the ‘80s and ‘90s? It was a response to huge numbers of fire deaths in America. In 1980, more than 5,000 people died and almost 20,000 were injured in fires. By 2016, the number of deaths had dropped to 2,700, and the injury rate was cut in half. That’s the difference fire safety education can make.