Making Your Dwelling Fire Hazard-Free
Fire Safety Checklist
The kitchen is the single most likely place for a residential fire to start. We have addressed that here. But for everything else, read on.
Fire Safety is an important topic for our family meetings. A residential fire is the most likely danger to your home and family. Even small children can participate on some level and be interested in hunting out hazards. Take the time to carefully inspect your home, both inside and out, and reduce possible hazards.
Smoking is well-known to be the number one cause of residential fires. No one should ever smoke in bed or in a recliner chair or while lying on the sofa. Ideally, no one should ever smoke in the house at all. If a family member is not willing to quit, set up an area outside where they can smoke and supply them with a deep ashtray filled with sand. When not in use, cigarettes and lighting equipment (lighters, matches) should be kept out of the reach of children. Douse cigarette butts with water before throwing them in the trash. Look for fire-safe cigarettes which are made from slow-burning paper that will snuff itself out if left unattended.
Candles are a big danger. Make sure that if you’re going to use them, they are never left unattended or within reach of children or pets. Never light them near combustibles such as curtains or other items.
A common fire hazard is from electrical outlets. We all know we shouldn’t overload our outlets but many of us do anyway, thinking ‘fire won’t happen to us’ or ‘this is just temporary’. It is much better to spread out our electrical usage between several outlets. Plugging too many appliances into a single source will result in hot wiring or permanent wiring. If you can move things around to where you only have one or two items plugged into each outlet then you have made a huge improvement in your home’s safety. Sometimes more than one outlet is serviced by a breaker. Be sure you know which outlets are connected to the same breaker as it is possible to overload the breaker even when you have what looks like a reasonable amount of appliances plugged into each outlet. Certain devices, such as toaster ovens, space heaters, and hair dryers also draw more than your typical lamp or radio.
The over-use of extension cords is another common hazard. Extension cords are meant to be temporary but many of us use them as permanent methods for stretching the cord of a lamp or other appliance to the outlet across the room. Using these as permanent items can wear them out and cause them to overheat. If you are hiding the cord under a traffic area rug where it’s getting walked on, it is getting damaged and eventually could catch your rug on fire. Avoid buying extension cords from discount retailers. This is one item that’s worth spending a little more money on.
During the holidays, check wires carefully. Lights and other decorations are an added strain to your electrical output. Unplug other items if you can to lower usage. Don’t leave decorations on when not at home or when asleep. Never leave lights on a Christmas tree lit unattended.
Over time, outlets become damaged or deteriorate, just like anything else. Connections in older homes especially need to be assessed. Electrical wiring in poor condition is dangerous. Outlet sockets loosen over time. If your equipment doesn’t fit snugly when plugged in, it can easily come loose and create a spark. Once a year, have a reputable electrician assess and make any repairs. Waste heat generated by the electrical current can cause electrical wiring within your walls to expand and contract, eventually loosening the wiring. Once that wiring is loose, the electricity can arc, sparking a fire. If an outlet catches on fire, don’t assume that cutting electricity to that outlet took care of the problem. There’s a chance there’s a fire smoldering behind your drywall. Never use water to put out an electrical fire. Turn off power to your house if you can, leave, and call 911 to report the possible fire.
Faulty equipment can cause fires. Do not use items if the cord is frayed or cracked. If you have a pet that is prone to chewing, block off areas where they can access wiring. If the wire feels hot to the touch when you use the item that is another signal that there is a problem. Check to see if your appliance was approved by Underwriters Laboratories. They are an independent testing facility that ensures the item you’re purchasing is safe.
Keep electronic equipment that generates heat away from combustibles. Don’t stack magazines and newspapers on or near your television, computer tower, or stereo equipment, for example. Be careful how close items are to curtains. Check your kids’ rooms to make sure piles of clothes or magazines aren’t in dangerous proximity to their stereo or electronic musical equipment. A pile of dirty clothes and a guitar amp are not a safe combination!
Items that draw a lot of power and/or generate a lot of heat, such as a space heater or hair dryer, should be unplugged when not in use.
Kids Playing With Fire:
Children playing with matches, lighters, or candles put themselves and everyone else at risk. Make sure children understand the consequences and risks they are taking. Show them books, videos, or other media to help impart that message. If you can, take a tour of your local fire station and have the firefighters talk to them too. And most importantly, lock up your matches and lighters and other fire-creating devices. Putting them up high is good, but children are curious. They’ll climb up kitchen cabinets or find other ways to reach what theyr’e looking for.
Fireplaces, furnaces, portable heaters, boilers, and gas/wood burning stoves are all potential hazards. Make sure there is no combustible material lying about.
Gas/Wood burning stoves should not be placed up against a wall of wood or drywall. Check your owners manual or local building codes to find out how far the stove should be from the wall and what types of non-combustible wall protection is recommended in your area.
Have your fireplace serviced once a year. Dirty chimneys and non-working flues can cause smoke to back up back into the house. Make sure the flue is even open before using the fireplace to avoid smoke damage and smoke inhalation inside the house. Put a screen in front of a wood-burning fireplace to protect your home from hot sparks or bits of lit kindling shooting out.
Have your furnace serviced regularly. If your furnace is located in a closet in a part of your house, vacuum dust and pet hair out of the closet before lighting the pilot. If there is an air intake space underneath the closet area, take off the vent and vacuum out underneath there as well. If your water boiler is in the same area, vacuum more frequently, especially if you have pets that shed.
The most common way for a dryer to cause a problem is through lint accumulation. Lint is highly flammable. Make sure your dryer is vented properly. Check the lint screen and clean both before and after each use. Twice a year (or more if you seem to be getting a lot of lint build-up), unplug and move the dryer away from the wall, take off the back, and vacuum inside. Check the vent too, both inside and outside to make sure there is no lint or dirt accumulation. Don’t run your dryer when you are not at home and awake. Don’t dry oily rags or rags used with flammable liquids from the garage or wood-shop in the dryer. If you’ve washed these rags, let them air dry by hanging them up outside. The hot air from the dryer can ignite them.
Clean Your Closets:
A surprising amount of residential fires start in a closet. Take a day to clean out your closets and other small storage areas, getting rid of any unnecessary items. If you have a bare incandescent bulb in the ceiling, change it to a fixture with a globe or plastic cage around it. Closet fires are often started from things piling up so high they get too close to the bulb. The bulb can burn anywhere from 212 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit. Even at 40 watts, a bulb can get hot enough to ignite fabrics and plastics. If the rod or shelves are too close, have them remounted.
If you’re stacking unneeded combustibles in the closet, get rid of them. Donate, sell, or recycle. Stacks of newspapers or magazines or even clothing, with a bit of moisture, can generate heat (just like a compost heap) and combust. Keep combustible items in dry places and away from any heat source.
Flammables In or Near the House:
There are many products left inside or along the outside walls of the house that are highly flammable and pose a threat. Be very careful where you store flammable liquids. If you keep car fluids and gasoline in the garage, contain them in a metal closet or locker. Don’t place them near any potential source of heat or flame. If you have an outdoor shed located away fro the side of the house, it is preferable to store them there. Make sure the shed door is kept closed and locked to keep items out of the reach of children and pets.
Always make sure any rags or cloths used with flammable liquids are completely dry before you wash them or store them. Keep them in metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Clearly label the containers so everyone knows what is in them.
Any flammable and/or hazardous containers that you don’t need anymore should be disposed of properly. Find out where your nearest hazardous waste drop-off point is.
Outside the House:
Before each fire season, clear any dead vegetation from around the house, the roof, and the gutters.
Relocate wood piles or other flammable materials such as mulch to 30 ft from the house or at least as far as possible.
Keep grass mown to a maximum height of 4 inches.
We have created a pdf checklist for you to print out for reviewing with your family and using as a progress marker as you complete each item that pertains to your household.Fire Safety Checklist