How To Prepare For A House Fire

In 2013 there were 1.2 million fires in the U.S. which resulted in 3,240 fatalities and over 15,000 injuries.  Virtually all of these deaths could have been prevented.  Overall I think I am fairly safety conscious and I also have a bit of a prepper streak in me. The consequences of home fires are very significant and upon reviewing our situation in regards to fire preparedness I realized that our family is extremely unprepared for a house fire.  We are taking several steps right now to rectify that.  Are you prepared for a house fire?

Last year a friend of mine died in a house fire.  I had worked with him for 10 years, he was one of our safety professionals at work.  I know that he deeply cared about the personal safety of everyone on our crew, and of himself.  When his house caught on fire, he ran back inside his house to save his pets and the smoke overtook him, he was 43 years old. I know he knew that he shouldn’t have done that, that he was taking on a huge risk, but in the moment when your adrenaline is pumping you do not evaluate risk properly and you can make rash decisions.  The only way to ensure you won’t make risky choices in the event of an emergency is to train through fire drills so that when there is an emergency, your actions are already programmed into your brain.

Last month my nephews best friend told him about the house fire they had just had.  his four year old little brother had found a lighter and accidentally started a fire. There were 5 young kids in the house. Thankfully, everyone got out safely, but virtually everything in the kids bedroom was destroyed.  Fire is a major risk to our safety and they can start very quickly. When looking at house fire events there are three main areas to focus on, prevention, detection, and correction.

How To Prepare For A House Fire: Prevention:

Of the house fires in the U.S., what do you think is the largest cause?  I had thought smoking in the house would be the highest, but I was way off.  Smoking only accounts for 2% of the yearly house fires.  Cooking is the leader at 50%, followed by heating at 12.5%, and electrical malfunction at 6.3%.

Seeing as how cooking fires are the number one cause of house fires, what actions lead to those cooking fires?  The number one problem is unattended cooking.  If something is on the stove top, someone needs to be attending it.  Another problem is combustibles being stored near cooking equipment. keep anything flammable away from the stovetop, toasters, and hot plates; things like oven mits, towels, curtains, oils, books, paper, etc.

So what else can we do besides be attentive while cooking? Well, house fires start in numerous other ways.  Here are some great tips for preventing house fires:

Clean out dryer vents regularly:  It doesn’t take but a few months for dryer vents to become filled with lint.  This lint when heated can lead to a fire.  It is also important to make sure that dryer exhaust runs are short and straight as possible.

fire-hazardDon’t overload sockets: Have you ever seen something like this?  This is a major fire hazard, because the extension cords are not made to carry the current they are being asked to carry when this many things are plugged into them.  The internal wires heat up and can catch fire.  just because X amount of things can plug into a cord, doesn’t mean it is safe to do so. Overloading sockets is something that many of us do for our computer set ups, and for holiday decorations, like in this photo.

Unplug space heaters when not attended: Space heaters draw a lot of electricity and since they are hot can become a source of ignition.  Electric space heaters are not as dangerous as kerosene heaters, but both need to be attended.

Don’t keep explosives and flammables in the house:  This sounds like a no brainer, but a lot of people store gasoline, oil, kerosene, and other flammable liquids in their basements, garages, or even closets.  Keep this stuff in an exterior building if possible and limit the quantities.

Keep trees and brush cut back from the house:  In the event of a brush fire or a structure fire nearby, you want there to be as little fuel between the fire and your home as possible.

Look For Electrical Problems:  It may be best to hire an electrician to look over your wiring.  At a minimum, take a look at junction boxes and keep an eye out for any connects made outside of junction boxes, these are huge fire hazards. Do not use any appliances or tools with “repaired” cables. I was shocked to find 3 electrical connections made in my house without junction boxes when we first moved in.

Don’t Leave Candles Unattended: This is especially true in houses with young children and pets.

Keep Walkways Clear:  A house with obstructions to entrances and exits can make getting out in an emergency take longer, and when there is a fire every second counts.  Not only do these obstructions block people from getting in and out, they also can provide more fuel for the fire.

Put out cigarette butts in fire safe containers and soak with water.


How To Prepare For A House Fire: Detection:

Smoke detectors are essential and at a minimum you need to have smoke detectors outside of all the bedrooms in the house.  What’s the most common problem with smoke detectors? Dead batteries.  A smoke detector with a dead battery does you absolutely no good.  You think you are protected, but when it is needed, it doesn’t function.  There are now smoke detectors made that have a permanent 10 year lithium ion battery installed with them.  I just purchased a bunch of these to replace my old smoke detectors.

For people with hearing impairment there are devices that can be installed under mattresses to provide a vibration in order to wake them up.  There are also smoke detectors that produce a visual strobe alarm in addition to the audible alarm. These are essential for anyone who suffers from hearing impairment.


How To Prepare For A House Fire: Correction:

Fire Drills:

When there is a fire, by far, the most important thing to do is get all of the people out of the house.  This is something that MUST be practiced.  You can not think that people will act rationally and organized in an emergency if they do not train for it, especially young children.  Everyone needs to understand that there are no material things in the house worth trying to get, if there is a fire, you get out and meet at a predetermined location.  At our house we all meet at the treehouse in the backyard, and then one of the adults will go to the neighbors house to call the fire department.

Before we practiced fire drills my 13 year old son told me that of course he would find his cat to get her out if there was a fire.  My 8 year old was planning on saving a special stuffed animal, and I can just about guarantee you my wife would be trying to get out photo albums, medical records, and things of that nature, despite the fact that all our pictures are backed up on the Amazon Cloud.  I know that my 5 year old would have most likely frozen and not know what to do.  These actions are what leads to fatalities when there is a fire. Without running drills in an emergency you will get chaos and a far greater chance of an injury or death.

When we practiced our first drill and looked at alternate exits, my son who is on the ground floor told me he didn’t think he could fit out his window.  Could you imagine if there was a fire and being trapped because you didn’t think you could get out the window?  I immediately showed him that I could get out the window and then we practiced, and practiced until he was comfortable with it.  When there is an emergency it is not the time to figure out if something will work.  I also showed him how in an emergency that he could pick up his chair and use it to break the glass in the window to get out if necessary.  If the house is on fire he won’t get in trouble for breaking a window.

Tools Need For House Fires:

 Do you have bedrooms on a 2nd or third story?  Then escape ladders are a necessity. Jumping out of a window to avoid a fire is a scary scenario, especially for children.  I personally wouldn’t think twice about jumping out of a 2nd story window to avoid a fire, but I can guarantee you most children will.  Having an emergency ladder AND training the kids on how to use it in an emergency is extremely important.  The ladder should be a part of your fire drills.

Fire Extinguishers: Fire extinguishers are rated based on what types of fires they can put out.  For your house you should get fire extinguishers that are ABC rated.  A is for trash, wood, and paper, B is for flammable liquids such as gasoline and C is for electrical equipment, you want an extinguisher that can handle all 3.  At a minimum keep one in the kitchen and one in the garage. Originally I was going to purchase one of the smaller fire extinguishers, but upon reading the reviews further, there have been several instances where the 2.5# fire extinguishers simply did not function when needed.  Yes, it costs a bit more, but a substantial 4# fire extinguisher that you know you can rely on is worth the extra $20, and it has a substantially larger amount of chemicals for putting out a big fire.


The final piece of the puzzle is insurance.  Whether you rent or own you need to have insurance to cover your belongings.  Renters insurance averages around $15 per month to cover $30,000 of items.  Usually if you have car insurance you can get a decent price break on renters insurance to.  I have seen people pay as little as $10 a month for renters insurance. If you don’t have renters insurance or home owners insurance I would highly suggest getting a quote today.

When it comes to home owners insurance the replacement cost of items is generally set at a percentage of the house replacement cost.  Mine is set automatically at 60%, which exceeds the value of everything I own.  If you have collectibles, cash, or other unique valuables in the house it may be necessary to purchase additional insurance to cover these items.  Whether you are a home owner or a renter it is a good idea to make a video of all the items you own so that in the event of a fire or other substantial loss, you can quantify what needs to be replaced.  Keep this video stored somewhere other than in your house, preferably on the cloud.

Going forward I plan on running drills about every other week.  When was the last time you ran a fire drill? Do you feel prepared for a house fire?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John is the author of the book For My Children's Children: A Practical Guide For Building Generational Wealth.

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