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Fire Safety Tips for Fathers and Families

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My favorite story about fire safety takes me back a few years ago. One evening, when our older children were elementary school aged, Julie and I were over at a neighbor’s house visiting. We had just looked at their new motor home and were sitting on the porch chatting as the kids were playing. Suddenly, we realized that we hadn’t seen the kids for a while and things were just too quiet. We started looking around the yard and the house, and couldn’t find our kids or their neighbor friends.

One of the adults in the group thought to look inside the new motor home. As she opened the door, the smell of burnt matches wafted out. The kids had gone into the motor home, found matches in a drawer in the cooking area, and had been striking them. They were only about 18 inches away from curtains and around many other combustibles. The potential fire catastrophe was avoided by a little quick investigation, and we went home that evening and had a full discussion on fire safety.

The risks of fire at home are real. The US Fire Administration gathers statistics about home fires, and they are startling. Every ten seconds, somewhere in the United States there is a fire in a home. Every 60 seconds, a fire department somewhere is called to a home fire. And annually, 2,600 Americans lose their life in a fire and 13,000 others are injured. So, take fire safety seriously.

In addition to teaching children about the dangers of playing with lighters and matches, fathers can do other things to try to make their homes and families safe from fire danger. These tips will help you take a hard look around the house, and to make sure that you are following fire safety practices at home.

Smoke detectors come first. There is no safety item more important than smoke detectors. You need to make sure that you have working smoke detectors. While different smoke detector models deal with smoke and heat differently, there are some general rules about location. You need at least one smoke detector on every level of the home and one outside every bedroom. You should make sure that you test them once a month and change the batteries twice a year, if they are equipped with replaceable batteries. In our home, the smoke detectors are hard wired, but have battery backups. So every time we reset the clocks for daylight saving time, we also change the smoke detector batteries.

Add fire extinguishers. In addition to smoke detectors, you should have strategically placed fire extinguishers. One in the kitchen is a must because kitchens are the most common source of fire risk. You should also have one in the garage, workshop and laundry area. Extinguishers also need to be recharged or replaced periodically; check the manufacturer’s requirements.

Clean and inspect furnace and chimneys. Having an annual check of your furnace is a good idea for a host of reasons, including fire safety. The furnace will operate more efficiently, and an inefficient or damaged furnace can emit carbon monoxide. Changing furnace filters regularly (every 30 days for most models) is a good safety technique. Also, if you have a wood burning fireplace, stove or furnace, make sure that you clean and inspect chimneys and flues annually. Many fires start in chimneys with a buildup of creosote, which is a byproduct of burning wood.

Keep combustibles away from heat sources. In the kitchen, make sure dish towels, hot pads and curtains are kept away from heating elements on the stove. If you have space heaters in your bathroom or bedrooms, make sure they have plenty of clearance around them and that towels and blankets are kept well away. Avoid overloading electrical outlets and make sure that no electrical cords or extension cords are run under carpets. And make sure that matches and lighters are kept well out of reach of children. Never leave a lighted candle unsupervised by an adult and keep space around them.

Invite EDITH. The acronym EDITH is used by fire professionals and stands for Exit Drills in The Home. Have an escape plan for your home with every room having two exits (think door and window). Make sure that if you have second floor bedrooms, you have a rope ladder in the bedroom to make for safe exiting. Define a place for family members to meet outside in case of fire so you know that everyone is accounted for. Then practice your escape plan with the family. Do it once or twice a year to make sure that they know what to do in case of fire. Using a family night for this exercise is a good idea.

A little prevention effort can go a long way. Planning for an emergency now will make responding to crisis later much easier. Think safety first!

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