When a smoke alarm senses smoke, an alarm will automatically sound. Fires often generate lethal amounts of unseen smoke and fumes well before flames are visible and before heat makes residents feel uncomfortably warm. When carefully purchased, installed, and maintained, smoke alarms can prevent such needless deaths. Smoke alarms buy time to get out of the house fast -- before toxic fumes accumulate to lethal levels. Teach children what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do - leave the building immediately by crawling under the smoke - when they hear it sound.
When Purchasing a smoke alarm, quality, not price, should be the determining factor. Check for the following:
- Laboratory label insuring that samples of the model you are buying have been carefully tested
- An alarm loud enough to awaken the family through closed bedroom doors
- A malfunction signal, to warn you when batteries are worn out or weak
- A manufacturer's warranty of at least 5 years
- Ease in maintenance and cleaning, which should be simple, as by regular vacuuming and dusting
Types of Alarms
- Ionization - This type contains a small amount of radioactivity that conducts electricity. Electric current flows continuously between two electrodes in the chamber. When smoke particles enter, they disturb this flow, causing the alarm to go off.
- Photoelectric - This type contains a beam of light and a photocell within the chamber. When smoke enters, it deflects the beam, causing it to strike the photocell and set off the alarm.
Which is better?
Ionization alarms are more sensitive to the tiny particles of combustion that cannot be seen or smelled - those emitted by flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to the large particles of combustion emitted smouldering fires. Consequently, ionization alarms will respond faster to flaming fires, and photoelectric alarms faster to smouldering fires. The differences between the two types are generally not critical, since the difference in response time in only a matter of a few seconds. Since most home fires produce a rich mixture of smoke types, with detectable amounts of both large particle and small particle smoke early in the fire's growth, either an ionization or a photoelectric alarm will meet most needs.
Placement of Smoke Alarms
- Buy as many smoke alarms as it takes to give your home complete coverage.
- You increase you chances of survival with each one that you have, but one on each level of the house is the absolute minimum.
- You should have a smoke alarm in a bedroom if the occupant smokes or sleeps with the door closed.
- When bedroom doors are left open, you should have at least one in the hallway outside the bedroom area
- Follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.
- On the ceilings, mount the device away from corners and walls, which have dead air space nearby. About 8 to 10 inches is the recommended distance.
- On walls, install the alarms high, because smoke rises, and place them from 8 to 10 inches away from corners and ceilings.
- Install smoke alarms at least 3 feet from vents, which might recirculate the smoke.
- Never place smoke alarms on uninsulated interior and exterior walls or ceilings. The difference in temperature between the interior and exterior can ruin batteries and prevent smoke from reaching the alarms.
- Check smoke alarms monthly by pushing the test button. If you cannot reach the button easily, use a broom handle.
- Change the batteries in your alarms twice a year - perhaps when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
- If cooking smoke sets off the alarm, do not disable it. Turn on the range fan, open a window, or wave a towel near the alarm.
- Do not remove the batteries to put in other appliances such as personal stereos or games.
- Smoke alarms wear out over time. Replace yours if it is 10 years old or more.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Detecting Carbon Monoxide
Carbon Monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that is a poisonous byproduct of incomplete combustion. If you have any fuel-burning appliance(s) in your home or apartment such as gas heat, any gas-fueled appliances, including water heaters, fireplaces, portable heaters, dryers, grills, or any wood-burning appliances such as fireplaces and wood stoves, you should have a CO detector installed on each level of your home.
Prevent Carbon Monoxide Problems
To prevent carbon monoxide problems in your home be sure to keep all appliances well-maintained, clean, and in good working order. Have professional technicians clean and inspect all equipment on a regular basis.
Buying a Detector
There are many different styles of CO detectors available in stores. If you purchase an AC powered model we recommend that you also purchase one that operates on battery power as well so that you still have protection in the event of a power outage.
Recognizing CO Poisoning
Some of the most common symptoms associated with CO poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. CO poison is a dangerous and life-threatening situation. Should you experience problems with CO in your home call the fire department immediately.
Fire extinguishers have limits, but when used properly they can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives. Portable extinguishers for home use, however, are not designed to fight large or spreading fires, they are useful only under certain conditions.
- The operator must know how to use the extinguisher. There is no time to read directions during an emergency.
- The extinguisher must be within easy reach, fully charged, and in good working order.
- The operator must have a clear escape route that will not be blocked by fire.
- The extinguisher must match the type of fire being fought. Extinguishers that contain water are unsuitable for use on grease or electrical fires.
- The extinguisher must be large enough to put out the fire. Many portable extinguishers discharge completely in as few as 8 to 10 seconds.
When using a fire extinguisher keep your back to an unobstructed exit and stand 6 to 8 feet away from the fire. Follow the four-step PASS procedure:
- Pull the pin: This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher.
- Aim low: Point the extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever above the handle: This discharges the extinguishing agent. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge.
- Sweep from side to side: Moving carefully toward the fire, keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until the flames appear to be out. Watch the fire area. If the fire reignites, repeat the process.
Always be sure the Fire Department inspects the fire site, even if you think you have extinguished the fire completely!
Choosing Your Extinguisher
Choosing Your Extinguisher depends on knowing the 3 basic classes of fires. There are other classes of fire, however these basic 3 are the most common. All fire extinguishers are labeled using standard symbols for the classes of fire they can put out (see illustration at right). A red slash through any of the symbols tells you the extinguisher cannot be used on that class of fire. A missing symbol tells you that the extinguisher has not been tested for a given class of fire.
- CLASS A: Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, and paper.
- CLASS B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, and oil-based paint.
- CLASS C: Energized electrical equipment -- Including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, and appliances.
The extinguisher must be appropriate for the type of fire being fought. If you use the wrong type of extinguisher, you can endanger yourself and make the fire worse. Multipurpose fire extinguishers marked ABC may be used on all three classes of fires.
Portable extinguishers are also rated for the size of fire they can handle. This rating will appear on the label -- for example, 2A:10B:C. The larger the numbers, the larger the fire that the extinguisher can put out, but higher-rated models are often heavier. Make sure you can hold and operate an extinguisher before you buy it.
Installation & Maintenance
Extinguishers should be installed in plain view, above the reach of children, near an escape route, and away from stoves or other heating appliances. Extinguishers require routine care. Read your owners manual to learn how to inspect your extinguisher. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on maintenance. Rechargeable models must be serviced after every use (Service companies are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Fire Extinguishers"). Disposable fire extinguishers can be used only once and must be replaced after use.
General Fire Safety Tips
In Case of Emergency Dial 9-1-1!
Dial 911 for all emergencies!
Plan an Escape Route
Sit down with your family and work out an escape plan in advance. Be sure that everyone knows at least two unobstructed exits - including windows - from every room. If you live in an apartment building use the stairs and never use the elevator to escape. Decide on a meeting place outside where everyone will meet after they escape. Be sure to practice the escape plan with your family!
Check for Recalls and Safety Information
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission releases safety information and recalls. Check their website for important updates. Press Releases for from the Consumer Product Safety Commission can be found here.
Care for Smoking Materials Properly
Careless smoking is a leading cause of fire deaths in North America. Smoking in bed or when you are drowsy could be fatal. Provide smokers with large, deep, non-tip ashtrays, and soak butts with water before discarding them. Before going to sleep or leaving home after someone has been smoking, check under cushions and around upholstered furniture for smoldering cigarettes.
Portable Heater Safety
Here are some general fire safety tips dealing with portable heaters.
- Make sure your space heaters have an emergency shut off in case they tip over. Only use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never refill a space heater while it is operating or still hot. Refuel outside, away from the house.
- Space heaters need space! Keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.
- Carefully follow manufacture's installation and maintenance instructions.
- Do not use the oven to heat your home. It is a fire hazard, and it can be a source of toxic fumes.
Matches and Lighters Are Not Toys
Use child-resistant lighters and store all matches up high, where kids cannot see or reach them. Teach children that lighters and matches are tools for grown-ups only. Teach young children to tell an adult if they find matches or lighters; older children should bring any such items they find to an adult immediately.
Cook safely and always stay nearby to monitor it closely. Keep cooking areas clear of combustibles, and wear clothes with short, rolled-up, or tight-fitting sleeves when you cook. Turn pot handles inward on the stove where you cannot bump them and children cannot grab them. If grease catches fire in a pan, slide a lid over the pan to smother the flames and turn off the heat source. Leave the lid on until the pan is completely cool.
Space Heaters & Portable Heaters
Keep space heaters and portable heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn. Keep children and pets away from heaters, and turn them off when you leave home or go to sleep.
Use Electricity Safely
Use electricity safely, and if an electric appliance smokes or has an unusual smell, unplug it immediately, then have it serviced before using it again. Replace any electrical cord that is cracked or frayed. Plug only one electrical cord into each receptacle. Avoid running any cords under rugs. Never tamper with your fuse box or use improper size fuses.
Cool a Burn
Cool a burn by running cool water over it for 10 to 15 minutes. Never apply ice, and never put butter or any other grease on a burn. If the burned skin blisters or is charred, see a doctor immediately.
Crawl Low Under Smoke
If you encounter smoke while you are escaping from a fire, use an alternative escape route. If you must escape through smoke, crawl on your hands and knees, keeping your head 12 to 24 inches above the floor, where the air will be cleaner.
Stop, Drop, & Roll
If your clothes catch fire, do not run. Stop where you are, drop to the ground, cover you face with your hands, and roll over and over to smother the flames. Cool any burns with water and call for help.
Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety
Here are some general fire safety tips dealing with fireplaces and wood stoves.
- Have a professional chimney sweep inspect and clean your fireplace, wood stove, and chimney at least once a year - chimney tar build up can ignite your chimney, roof, and the whole house.
- Keep the fire in the fireplace by making sure you have a screen large enough to catch flying sparks and rolling logs.
- Use only seasoned wood, not green wood, artificial logs, or trash for your fireplace or wood stove.
- Make sure wood stoves are properly installed, away from combustible surfaces, have the proper floor support, and adequate ventilation. Never use flammable liquids (such as gasoline) to start or accelerate fire.
- Remember a poorly functioning or damaged fireplace and chimney may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.
- If you use a fireplace or would stove make sure that you have a properly functioning Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarm!
Home Hazardous Materials
STOP! If you think it's a poisoning call the poison control center immediately to talk with a nurse or pharmacist about what to do.
All calls to the poison control center are absolutely free, and your call is confidential.
Hazardous Materials Around the Home
Hazardous materials around the home are probably more common than you may think. Many of which could be very dangerous if you have a fire or that could cause a fire if they are improperly stored or used. For example:
In The Bedroom
The bedroom might be the last place you expect to fire hazardous materials, but do you have any aerosol cans of hair spray, deodorant, or other personal care products? Hair spray is highly flammable, and all aerosol cans explode if exposed to high heat. Dispose of any aerosol cans properly. Nail polish is also flammable, as are many other products that give off strong fumes. Nail polish and nail polish remover, as well as cotton balls or tissues used to apply them, burn easily if exposed to flame or high heat. The fumes given off by mothballs are flammable. Mothball containers should be sealed tightly.
In The Bathroom
Some disinfectants, such as toilet bowl cleaners, are also flammable. Drain-cleaning fluids and powders are extremely caustic and can cause severe burns on contact with the skin. Follow the instructions for use printed on the labels of these products carefully.
In the Kitchen
Cleaning products should be stored and used with care. Floor and furniture polishes, spot removers, and oven cleaners are flammable liquids that can ignite if exposed to high heat or flame. If you unsure if a product is flammable, read the label. If the listed ingredients include petroleum products or methylated spirits, treat the substance as if it could catch fire.
Flammable gases such as containers of butane (for refilling lighters) and all aerosol cans should be stored in a cool place. When filling a lighter, be sure there is no flame or heat source nearby that could ignite leaking gas. Natural gas and propane piped into your home are extremely flammable and should be used with care. If you suspect a leak, call the gas company, propane supplier, or fire department immediately. Propane cylinders for cooking or heating should always be installed or stored out of doors. Plug cylinder outlets when tanks are not connected for use.
Workshops, Basements & Hobby Area
Your workshop, basement, or hobby area is likely to contain many flammable liquids such as turpentine, mineral spirits, and other solvents; oil-based paints, stains, and varnishes; and camping stove fuels and charcoal lighter fluid. Your basement is also likely to contain a furnace and hot-water heater -- sources of heat and flame that could ignite vapors from such flammable liquids.
It is best to store all flammable liquids outside your home, in the garage or in a shed. Always store flammable liquids in approved, labeled safety containers with tight-fitting lids. Never store flammable liquids in glass jars, which can break easily. Rags soaked in oils or paint thinners will burn if exposed to flame. Dispose of such rags after use, or store them in a tightly closed metal container.
Never Store Gasoline in your Home
Treat gasoline with extreme caution, since gasoline vapors can be ignited by even a tiny spark. Store gasoline only in containers designed and approved for the purpose. Refuel gasoline powered machines in the open, well away from buildings and foliage. Never refuel hot machinery. The heat can produce explosive gasoline fumes. Never use gasoline as a substitute for charcoal lighter or cleaning solution. The results can be lethal. And never smoke near gasoline.
Hazardous Materials Outdoors
The charcoal lighter and propane commonly used for cooking outdoors are familiar hazardous materials whose use requires caution. When starting a charcoal fire, apply starter fluid only to cold charcoal briquettes. Allow the fluid to soak in for 10 minutes before lighting. Never add starter fluids to warm or flaming briquettes.
If you use an outdoor propane grill, follow the manufacturer's instructions, and never leave a hot grill unattended. Other flammable or otherwise hazardous household materials include some weed killers, pesticides, garden fungicides and fertilizers, and pool chemicals. Read and follow product instructions carefully.