The American Red Cross of Central Maryland reports that in 2004 (the most recent available statistics) fire killed more U.S. citizens than all other natural disasters combined. However, most people aren’t aware of this because house fires are “silent disasters,” seldom receiving the same publicity as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes.
Most people also don’t know that very few fires are caused by natural events such as lightning or static electricity. The American Red Cross says that faulty appliances and faulty wiring cause the greatest number of house fires. The second most common source is heating devices such as heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces. These devices cause fires when furniture, boxes, or clothing are placed too near to them, and the material overheats and bursts into flames.
Human error might be the catalyst for house fires, but human preparedness can prevent them. Here are some tips to keep your family and property safe:
- Purchase quality equipment that has been tested by Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) or other appropriate testing facilities.
- Be sure household equipment is installed by a technician who has been trained properly and also knows the appropriate building code requirements for the installation.
- Have your electrical wiring and heating periodically checked to be sure they are in proper working condition.
- Don’t operate appliances that are behaving erratically. Call a qualified repairman to find the problem and correct it.
- Control the amount of combustible material in your home by removing cardboard boxes, newspapers, old mattresses, rags, leftover paint and other items that are no longer in use. In fact, you should periodically inspect the attic and the cellar to be sure that you aren’t storing any combustible materials that should be discarded.
- Check the type of wall finishes in your home to ensure they aren’t conducive to spreading a fire. Plaster and gypsum board retard fire growth. Plywood paneling made of compressed wood pulp, known as beaverboard, accelerates the spread of fire in dwellings.
- Place fire extinguishers so they are readily available in the event a fire starts. It is important to understand what type of fire extinguisher to use:
- Class A extinguishers can be used to put out fires in wood, cloth, paper and rubber.
- Class B CO2 or foam-filled extinguishers can be used for fires in flammable liquids, gases and greases.
- Class C CO2 or foam-filled extinguishers can be used for fires in energized electrical equipment.
- Halon can be used on any type of fire.
- Put a smoke detector in every room
- Schedule regular practice fire drills. Be sure children are completely familiar with the correct way to evacuate in the event of a fire.
Don’t let your family be the victim of this “silent disaster.” Become familiar with these fire prevention tips and put them into practice.