Graphic created by Gabrielle Haiderer
It’s the middle of the night and your smoke detector goes off. Do you know what you’ll do?
Many people don’t, experts say; but, in a house fire there’s no time to spare. A fire can become life-threatening in two minutes or less, the Department of Homeland Security reports, and in five minutes a residence can be completely engulfed in flames.
“That’s not much time to be able to exit a house,” says Lt. Randy Keeler, fire marshal at the Mt. Pleasant Fire Department. “It’s a lot less than what it used to be and it’s primarily due to the products inside of the house now – plastics, synthetics – that the fire spread is much faster. It’s much hotter than what it used to be and the smoke is a lot more dangerous.”
House fires claim thousands of lives per year, and Michigan is one of the top five states with the most civilian fire deaths. Despite efforts to raise awareness, many people aren’t prepared.
“As a fireman, I think it should just be first-hand knowledge, but it’s not. People aren’t really thinking about it as much as they should,” Keeler says. “It may be on the back of their mind; but, with anything, there's a little bit of complacency.”
Oct. 6-12 is Fire Prevention Week, a chance to raise awareness about fire hazards and the need to be prepared. With that in mind, consider these tips from Keeler to help keep your family safe.
1. Install and test smoke alarms
You’ll need one on every level of your home and one in every bedroom. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how and where they should be installed.
“Most newer housing will have a minimum of six to seven smoke alarms,” Keeler points out.
Test them monthly and change the batteries regularly.
“The maintenance of the alarms is a big issue,” he says.
2. Make an exit plan
Every household needs a fire escape plan, complete with at least two exit routes for every room. It should also include a meeting place outside and assigned roles for members of the family, including who will assist each child or those with mobility issues.
Also, educate family members about keeping doors shut at night.
“Doors really do wonders for smoke damage and separation,” Keeler says.
3. Practice like it’s real
Families absolutely must practice their fire escape plans at least twice a year.
“You’re going to wake up from a dead sleep, go down a hallway and grab a child and head out of the house in less than two minutes. That’s a pretty fast escape,” he says. “Practice like it’s real. Practice different areas and different escape routes so it’s not always the same.”
4. Prepare for the season change
House fires often increase when the weather is cooler and people start using their furnaces, fireplaces, holiday lights, and candles.
“What I’d recommend, especially when you're starting to fire up those furnaces, is to have someone come out, change the filters, and do an overall check on your heating appliances,” Keeler notes.
The same goes for annual chimney inspections. As for holiday lights and candles, “those should only be operated while you’re home so you can keep an eye on them,” he says.
This could also be a good time to buy a carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher for the home.
5. Beware of common hazards
Cooking is a common cause of house fires.
“The most common mistake with cooking fires is that you’re walking away from a pan or leaving a burner on,” Keeler explains.
He also points out that smoking materials are still the leading cause of fire deaths; so, those who smoke need to dispose of cigarettes in a non-combustible container.
For more fire prevention tips, visit https://www.ready.gov/home-fires.