Home Fire Hazards
Every 15 seconds, a fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the
United States. A residential fire occurs every 66
seconds. There is one civilian fire death every 118 minutes. There is
one civilian fire injury every 18 minutes. In 1998, 91 firefighters were
killed in the line of duty and over 40.000 firefighters were injured on the fire ground.
The Nature of Fire
Fires are likely to start in many places in the home including the
kitchen, living room, bedroom and storage areas such as, the
attic, basement, workroom or storeroom. Causes of fire include
overheated or overloaded electrical wire, cigarette ashes,
smoldering ashes in the couch, sparks from the fireplace, unattended
outdoor fires and barbecues, appliances in poor repair
and unattended cooking in the kitchen.
To understand the dangers of fire in the home, first understand the
nature of fire. Fire occurs any time that four elements are present
- fuel, heat, oxygen and the chemical chain reaction. When these four
elements are together, fire occurs. If any one element is
removed, fire is prevented. These elements are collectively known as the
"Fire Tetrahedron" or the "four faces" of fire.
Fuel, such as wood, paper or clothing (essentially anything that can
burn) provides the energy for the fire. Oxygen, found in the
air we breathe, is required for the burning process to occur. Heat
provides a source of ignition, such as a match or a lighter, and
causes the continued vaporization of solids such as wood in flammable
gases. The chemical chain reaction or high molecular
activity is needed to keep the fire burning. If any one of the four
components is missing, fire cannot start. Removal of any one of
these four causes fire to be extinguished. When fire occurs, an
oxidation/reduction reaction takes place. This chemical term
means a fuel, such as wood, is "reduced" in form in the presence of an
oxidizing agent, oxygen, and changes chemical make-up.
Fire and heat cause the wood that is composed primarily of hydrogen and
carbon molecules, to decompose thereby releasing
energy in the form of more heat and flame. The wood is reduced and gives
off carbon dioxide and hydrogen gases into the
atmosphere and turns into ash (primarily carbon molecules).
Products with a high carbon and hydrogen content are the most effective
fuels or "reducing agents." The most common of these
are "complex hydrocarbons" such as gasoline, propane, butane and natural gas.
An oxidizing substance provides oxygen that is necessary for the burning
or oxidation/reduction process to happen. The purest
oxidizing substance is oxygen gas itself. Of the air we breathe, 21
percent is composed of oxygen. Thus, air is the most
common oxidizing substance found. Other oxidizing substances include
chlorine, bromide, iodine and ozone. For something to
burn, it must first reach ignition temperature. Consider an
unintentional fire in a trash can. A match that burns at more than 400
degrees Fahrenheit is dropped into a trash can. The embers ignite paper
in the can and a fire begins. Once the fire starts,
significant heat is generated. This heat causes unburned paper next to
the flame to increase its molecular activity. The unburned
paper vaporizes and turns to a gas. This flammable gas provides more
fuel to the fire and it continues to burn.
The chain reaction means that the burning process must be allowed to
continue in order for fire to burn. The collision of
molecules in the oxidation/reduction process causes heat to build up,
which sustains the combustion process.
Anytime just one of the four sides of the fire tetrahedron is removed
the possibility of fire is eliminated. A home fire inspection
will help reduce the possibility of a fire in your home. When a fire
hazard is identified, one side from the fire tetrahedron has been
removed. For example, we know
that "Smokers Need Watchers." If a live cigarette ash is discovered
behind a couch after a party and extinguished, the heat side of the fire
tetrahedron is eliminated.
If a pile of rubble lying next to the house is discarded, the fuel for a
potential fire is removed from the fire tetrahedron. If a
grease fire is covered with a lid, oxygen is removed from the fire
tetrahedron. If the fuel cells are removed from a nuclear reactor, the
chain reaction is reduced.
One of the best ways to prevent fire in the home is to do a home
inspection specifically looking for the fire hazards or preparing
for emergency measures in case of a fire. Inspect your home one section at a time:
All electrical appliances and tools should have a testing agency label.
Have the appliances repaired if they aren't working right.
If an appliance gets wet, have it serviced.
Check the cords on all appliances. If they are worn or frayed, have them repaired.
Don't overload the outlets.
Make sure appliance cords are kept on the counter to prevent them
from being pulled down by young children.
Don't store things over the stove. People get burned while reaching for these items.
Turn pot handles so children can't pull them down.
Wear tight sleeves when cooking. Loose-fitting garments can catch fire.
Check to see if curtains or towel racks are too close to the stove.
Check to see if the stove and oven are clean of grease and oil.
Be sure a fire extinguisher is placed in the kitchen. East Side
Fire Department recommends a minimum 2A10BC extinguisher.
All cleaning products and other chemicals should be stored out of
the reach of young children, not under the sink.
Cleaning products and other chemicals also should be stored
separately from foods.
Be sure microwave ovens have room to "breathe," and all the vents
are cleared of obstructions.
Living room or family room
Be sure portable space heaters are at least three feet away from
anything that can catch fire including walls and curtains.
Use a metal or glass fireplace screen. Have the
chimney checked and cleaned regularly.
Put lighters and matches where small children won't find them.
Too small or too full ashtrays are no good. Ashtrays should be
large, deep and emptied frequently, but only when
all signs of heat and burning are gone.
Before going to bed, look under cushions for burning cigarettes.
Check carpeting where ashtrays have been used.
Allow plenty of air space around the TV and stereo to prevent
overheating. If these appliances are not working correctly, be sure to
have them repaired. In the meantime, unplug them.
Check for worn or frayed extension cords or other electrical cords.
Extension cords should not run under rugs and carpets or be looped
over nails or other sharp objects that could cause them to fray.
Check for overloaded outlets or extension cords.
Electrical sockets should be covered with a childproof fitting.
Lamp and light fixtures should be used with bulbs with wattage at
or below maximum prescribed by the manufacturer.
Check for overloaded extension cords and outlets.
Don't place or use any appliances near water.
Make sure all medicines and cosmetics are kept
out of the reach of small children.
Install safety latches on drawers, cupboards and medicine cabinets
if the home has small children.
Dump old or outdated medicine into the toilet.
Smoke detectors should be tested regularly to be
sure they are functioning correctly.
Have a working flashlight next to each bed.
Again, check for overloaded outlets, extension cords and heaters
that are too close to combustible items.
Each member of the family should know what to do in the event of a fire.
Do all family members know the fire escape plan?
Plan two escapes from each bedroom in case of a fire.
If you smoke, DO NOT smoke in bed.
Basement, Garage and Storage
Store gasoline and other flammables in tight metal containers.
Don't use flammable liquids near heat, a pilot light or while smoking.
Have heating equipment checked yearly.
Clean up all workbenches.
If a fuse blows, find the problem. Be sure to replace a
fuse with one the correct size.
Don't store things near the furnace or heater.
Get rid of stored newspaper or other rubbish. Newspapers stored in
a damp, warm place may ignite spontaneously.
Oily, greasy rags should be kept in labeled and sealed non-glass
containers, preferably metal.
Keep all chemicals, paints, etc. in their original containers.
Set your water heater at 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Is your roof fire retardant? Roofing material whether it is asphalt
shingle, shake shingle, tile or slate can be treated with fire retardant processes.
Don't ever use gasoline on a grill. Once the fire has been started,
never use lighter fluid or gasoline. Use dry kindling to revive the fire.
Move the lawnmower away from gasoline fumes before starting.
Allowthe engine to cool before refueling.
Have a lightning protection system installed.
Don't store more of anything than is needed.
Things to Think About
Smoking in bed, in a chair, or on the sofa when
tired, drinking, or under medication.
Spraying aerosols while smoking or near a space heater,
range, or other ignition sources.
Using a cigarette lighter after spilling fluid on the hands or clothing.
Leaning against a range for warmth or standing too close to a heater or fireplace.
Use single deadbolt locks with inside thumb turns wherever
possible. When a double key deadbolt is used, such as in a door with
windows or other openings, a key should be left in the interior lock
whenever anyone is inside the home.
If window security bars are desired, install or retrofit windows
with bars that have a single action quick release device which does not
require special tools. A key is considered a special tool
Every bedroom must have a minimum of one exit that can be opened to
the outside of the home. You must be able to use the exit without
special tools. A key is considered a special tool. East Side Fire
Department advises that bars on windows have a single action quick
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