In recognition of Fire Prevention Week this October, we are reminding families to take the necessary fire safety precautions to prevent a house fire this year.
According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), fire claims the lives of 3,275 Americans and injures well over 15,575 each year.
Common Fire Starters & Fireproofing Your Home
In this article, we are going to share with you some tips on how to fireproof your home and prevent fires caused by electrical items, heat sources, smoking grills, fireworks, and holiday decorations. We’ve also got some helpful hints on fire safety best practices and how to use your fire extinguishers most effectively if you do encounter a fire in your home.
Bedroom Fire Safety
Nearly 600 lives are lost to fires that start in bedrooms, many of which are started because of the misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, such as space heaters and extension cords. Many other fires are caused by children playing with matches and lighters, careless smoking by adults and arson.
Do not wrap electronic cords against walls where heat can build up.
Keep bedding, clothes, curtains and other combustible items at least three feet away from space heaters.
Only use UL-approved electric blankets and warmers. Check the cords to make sure that they are not frayed before each use.
Never smoke in bed.
Replace mattresses made before the 2007 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard – law outlining specifications for safer mattresses.
Kitchen Fire Safety
Many families gather in the kitchen to spend time together. However, this can be one of the most hazardous rooms in the house if you do not practice safe cooking behaviors. In fact, cooking equipment, most often a range or stovetop, is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. Whether you are cooking the family a special dinner or a snack for the kids, practicing safe cooking behaviors will help keep you and your family safe.
Preventing scalds and burns:
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing and operating cooking equipment.
Plug microwave ovens, toasters and other cooking appliances directly into the outlet, as opposed to an extension cord. This can overload the circuit and can cause a fire.
Do not leave frying, grilling or broiling foods unattended.
Check on simmering, baking, roasting and broiling foods regularly, and set timers to avoid burning food.
Do not place potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper and plastic bags, food packaging and towels near the stovetop.
Always keep the stovetop, oven and burners clean.
Do not allow pets to stand or jump on hot surfaces or countertops.
Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that can dangle onto stove burners and catch fire.
Keep children away from the cooking area of the kitchen, establishing it as a “kid-free zone.”
Use the stove’s backburners when possible, especially when kids are present.
Do not hold a child while cooking, drinking or carrying hot food items or liquids.
Turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
Use oven mitts when moving hot foods from ovens, microwaves and stove tops. Do not use a wet oven mitt or potholder because this can cause scald burns.
Replace old or warn pot holders and oven mitts.
Place burned skin under cool water immediately for three to five minutes. If the burn is bigger than your fist or is severe, seek medical treatment immediately.
Fighting kitchen fires:
Always keep a pan lid nearby when cooking. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by sliding the lid over the pan. Then, turn off the burner. Leave the lid on the pan until it is completely cool.
In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
If there is a fire in your microwave oven, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed. Unplug the appliance and wait for the fire to go completely out before opening the door.
Have a service person inspect both a microwave and oven before using them again after a fire.
Electrical Fire Safety
Electrical fires claim the lives of 485 Americans each year and injure over 2,000 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, while most are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
December is the most dangerous month for electrical fires, and deaths are most common in winter months when people tend to use lighting, heating and appliances more often.
Most electric fires start in the bedroom.
Most electrical fires result from “fixed wiring” problems such as faulty outlets and old wiring.
Many avoidable fires are caused by overloading circuits or the misuse of electric cords.
Routinely check your appliances and wiring.
Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords.
Do not overload electrical extension cords or wall outlets.
Keep appliances away from wet floors and counters and pay special attention to appliances in the kitchen and bathroom.
Purchase products that meet the UL standard for safety.
Keep clothes, linens and combustible items at least three feet away from portable heaters.
Never try and force a three-pronged plug into a two-prong outlet.
Use safety closures to “child-proof” electrical outlets.
Replace power tools if you experience a shock or it overheats, shorts out, sparks or smokes.
Heat Source Safety
The high cost of home heating has caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating, such as wood burning stoves, space heaters and fireplaces. All of these methods of heating are acceptable, if they are done safely. They are, however, major contributors of residential fires.
Woof stove and fireplace safety:
Wood stoves should have at least a 36-inch clearance from the combustible surface.
Have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually.
Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate a fire.
Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from flying out.
Burn the stove twice daily for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.
Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel.
Be sure the fire is out before going to sleep or leaving the house.
Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using synthetic logs. Also do not break them apart, as large amounts of carbon monoxide can be released when they burn unevenly.
Have your furnace inspected annually before the heating season to make sure that the controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.
Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, you may need to install additional pipe insulation or clearance.
Inspect the flue pipe and pipe seams. If you notice soot along or around the seams, you may have a leak.
Inspect the chimney for cracks or loose bricks. Seal unused flue openings with solid masonry.
Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.
Grilling Fire Safety
Every year, Americans look forward to summer vacations, camping, family reunions, picnics and holiday celebrations. However, summertime also brings inherent fire risks due to outdoor grilling mishaps. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that there are more than 7,000 grill fires annually, causing more than 100 injuries and about $100 million in property loss. Most fires are caused by gas leaks, blocked tubes and overfilled propane tanks.
Position the grill well away from siding, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
Place the grill a safe distance from the lawn, play areas and foot traffic.
Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
Use only long-handled grilling tools to handle food.
Use grills outdoors only.
Purchase the proper starter fluid for charcoal grills.
Check the propane cylinder hose for leaks before using propane grills for the first time each summer season. Using a light soap and water solution on the hose will reveal escaping propane quickly by releasing bubbles.
If you smell gas when cooking on a propane grill, immediately move away and call 911.
Store propane cylinders outside of your garage for the winter.
Holiday Fire Safety
Each year, fires occurring during the holidays claim the lives of over 400 Americans, injure over 1,600 people and cause over $990 million in damage. There are simply ways to still enjoy the holidays, without injury.
Select a fresh tree with green needles that are hard to pull back from the branches. The trunk should also be sticky to the touch.
Do not place your tree close to a heat source, such as a fireplace or heating vent, as it can dry out quickly and ignite.
Take your tree down after two weeks and water it everyday.
Inspect your holiday lights annually by looking for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive wear.
Use only UL-approved lights that are tested for safety.
Do not link more than three sets of lights together, and connect lights to an extension cord before plugging them into an outlet.
Use nonflammable or fire-retardant decorations only.
Place candles in stable holders out of reach of children and pets.
Do not leave burning candles unattended.
Escape Plan Logistics
Deaths resulting from failed emergency escapes from fires are generally avoidable. The USFA believes that having a sound escape plan can greatly reduce your risks of injury or death from fire.
Incorporate the following into your fire escape plan:
When coming to a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob and the crack between the door and the frame to make sure that the fire is not directly outside. If the door feels hot, use the secondary exit. If the door feels cool, brace yourself against it and open it slowly.
Do not waste any time trying to save your personal property. Instead, take the safest exit route.
If you must escape through smoke, crawl low under the smoke and cover your mouth.
Establish a meeting place outside of the home where everyone knows to go once they are safely out. Designate one person to go to a neighbor’s house to call the fire department.
Never go back into a burning home for any reason.
Post Fire Actions
The first 24 hours after a fire…
Contact your local disaster relief center for immediate needs:
Other essential items
Then, contact General Insurance Services immediately!
Valuing your property:
Your Personal Valuation: An objective measurement by you concerning the value of your lost possessions. General Insurance Services and the IRS will use these values to determine your casualty loss.
Cost when Purchased: Amount you paid for items. If you have receipts, this will greatly help calculate your casualty loss.
Fair Market Value Before the Fire: Amount at which you could have received for lost items the day before the fire. The price would reflect its cost at purchase less the wear it had sustained since the purchase date (depreciation).
Value After the Fire: Items salvage value after the fire.
Do not throw any damaged items until after an inventory is made! All damages are taken into consideration when developing your insurance claim.
Entering your property:
Do not enter a damaged site, unless the fire department gives you clearance to do so.
Do not attempt to turn on your utilities until the fire department determines that they are safe to use.
Look out for structural damage. Roofs and floors may be damaged and may collapse.
Do not consume food, liquids or medicine exposed to heat, smoke, soot or water that survived the fire.
Board up windows and doors to discourage trespassers while your home is being repaired.
Save receipts for money spent related to fire loss. General Insurance Services, Inc. will need this information and you will also need receipts to verify losses claimed on your income tax.
Locate identification items (driver’s license and Social Security cards) and valuables, if possible.
Inventory and Restoration:
If you are considering hiring an inventory or restoration service, contact General Insurance Services first to discuss your plans. These companies can provide the following services:
Securing the site against more damage
Estimating structural damage
Repairing structural damage
Estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property
Packing, transporting and storing household items
Hiring cleaning and repairing subcontractors Storing repaired items until they are needed
Notify the following entities of your temporary relocation:
General Insurance Services, Inc. and your specific agent
Mortgage company (inform them of the fire as well)
Family and friends
Your child’s school
Delivery services that you use regularly
Fire and police departments Utility companies
Here is a checklist of the documents you will need to replace if they were destroyed in a home fire.
Who to Contact
Driver’s License; Automobile Registration
Bureau of Motor Vehicles
General Insurance Services
Military Discharge Papers
Department of Veteran Affairs
Birth, Death, and Marriage Certificates
Bureau of Records in your state
Circuit Court where decree was issued
Social Security or Medicare Cards
Local Social Security Office
Titles to Deeds
Records Dept. in which the property is located
Stocks and Bonds
Issuing Company or Your Broker
Income Tax Records
IRS Center where filed or Your Accountant
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Prepaid Burial Contract
Animal Registration Papers
Fire Safety Best Practices
It takes less than 30 seconds for a small flame to get out of control. Developing a fire escape plan is the best way to protect you and your family in the event of a fire emergency.
You should also make sure you have one or more fire extinguishers easily accessible in your home. To use your fire extinguisher, remember to PASS: Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the handle approximately eight feet from the fire, and Sweep the extinguisher back and forth across the base of the fire.
In the unfortunate circumstance that your home does succumb to a house fire, you will want to find peace of mind in knowing it is adequately insured. Helping you to avoid claims is just one of the many value-added services we provide. December is the most common month for house fires, so if you have not already reviewed your home insurance policy with your GIS advisor this year, we invite you to connect with us before the holiday season to make sure that you have the coverage you need.
At General Insurance Services, we are a team of insurance professionals with an array of experience, backgrounds, and interests. We’re advisors with a mission to secure the future of the communities we serve. Share our knowledge through this blog allows us to get one step closer to achieving our mission.