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Is Your Family Fire Wise?

Recent news item on family fire safety from The York [PA] Dispatch:

Working smoke detectors saved the lives of a Springettsbury Township family and their pets on Thursday morning, according to fire officials.

The home’s occupants were asleep but were awakened by their smoke detectors and were able to get themselves and one of their dogs outside safely, officials said. One dog was rescued from the basement by a firefighter and was given oxygen at the scene. The dog is fine.

It appeared the fire was started by a frayed extension cord that overheated and smoldered.

Although the smoke detector was severely damaged by the fire, it continued to beep.

Because October is Fire Prevention Month, our family practice doctors want to make sure your family is safe from this common danger that kills over 2,500 Americans every year. Here we offer tips for family fire safety.


First let’s look at some facts about fires in the home:

    • U.S. fire departments respond to a home fire every 86 seconds; that’s over 1,000 fires a day.
    • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires, followed by heating equipment, electrical malfunction, intentional fires, and smoking materials.
    • Approximately 50 percent of home fires occur during the night when people are sleeping.
    • Inhaling the poisonous gases produced by a fire will cause disorientation and drowsiness and, eventually, death. Asphyxiation from these gases is the number one cause of fire deaths.
    • Three out of five deaths from home fires occur in homes without a working smoke detector.


Here are some tips from the Red Cross on how to prevent home fires.

    • Smoke alarms double the chance of surviving a fire, so have at least one on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area.
      • Test them once a month and change the batteries every six months.
      • Use the semi-annual time change as a reminder.
      • Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.
    • Most home fires start in the kitchen while cooking—usually on stovetops—so never leave the kitchen when cooking, frying, or grilling on your stove.
      • Check for flammable material such as curtains, towel racks, or paper towels sitting too close to the burners.
      • Never throw water on a grease fire, which will make it flare up.
      • Suffocate the flames with a lid, instead.
    • Never leave fires or candles burning, or heating appliances plugged in while you’re asleep, in another room, or when you leave your home.
    • Because dryers are responsible for nine out of 10 appliance fires, clean the lint screen every time you use your dryer, and clean the vent at least twice a year.
    • Never overload extension plugs or run them under rugs, and check them periodically for signs of wear.
    • Teach children regularly about the dangers of fire, matches, and lighters, and keep them out of reach. Use only lighters with child-resistant features.
    • Always smoke outside and douse cigarettes in a fire-safe disposal container with water.
      • Never smoke in bed, when drowsy or medicated, or if anyone in the home is using supplemental oxygen.


How to prepare your family for a home fire

    • Know how to safely operate a fire extinguisher:
      • Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and pull the pin.
      • Point the nozzle at the base of the fire, squeeze the lever slowly and evenly, and sweep the nozzle from side to side.
    • Ensure that all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home.
      • Twice a year, have the family practice an escape plan, including where they’ll meet up once outside.
    • If closed doors or handles are warm or smoke blocks your primary escape route, use your second way out.
      • Never open doors that are warm to the touch.
    • Remember, fire rapidly produces copious amounts of smoke that make it impossible to see. If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to reach your exit. Close doors behind you.
    • If smoke, heat, or flames block your exit routes, stay in the room with doors closed. Place a wet towel under the door and open a window.
    • Consider buying escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second or third floor.
      • Learn how to use them and store them near the windows.
    • Never take the elevator to escape a fire in a multi-story building. Always use the stairs.
    • Teach children what smoke alarms sound like and what to do when they hear one.
      • Show them to crawl on their hands and knees if they see smoke, and not to hide under the bed or in the closet.
    • Teach pets to come when called, and practice taking them with you when you rehearse your escape plan. Affix a pet alert window cling to a front window and write down the number of pets inside.
    • Emphasize “GET OUT and STAY OUT.” Only professional firefighters should enter a building that is on fire, even if other family members, pets, or prized possessions are inside.
    • Teach household members to “STOP, DROP, and ROLL” if their clothing should catch on fire. Running will only fan the flames.
      • Once the flames are out, cool the burned skin with water for three to five minutes and call for medical attention.


Fires are not 100 percent preventable, so it pays to be prepared. Please let us know if you have questions about family fire safety or any other health issue.

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