Friday, October 15, 2010

Home Fire Prevention: It’s Not Rocket Science

I live in a fairly fire-safe home. That is, I had residential fire sprinklers installed in it when it was built in 1998, long before there were tax incentives or regulations requiring them. But I did that to “walk the talk,” as a safety professional. Safety education is what I do for a living, though my specialty is with natural hazards. I can’t forget, however, that home fires remain the #1 killer of people where they feel safest, in their own homes.

During Fire Prevention Week 2010, which was October 3 – 9, I did some things that demonstrate my concern for my home, my family, and my friends. It’s not rocket science – most of these activities take a few minutes, and can engage the whole family for some interactive fun.

On the first day of FPW, I had a home fire drill. Studies have shown that only about 16% of American households have fire drills. Kids are accustomed to having fire drills in school, and drills are not uncommon in workplaces. But at home? Easy! One evening after dark, I brought everyone upstairs to bedrooms. We put blindfolds on each other. I turned off the lights in the whole house, then put on my own blindfold.Then I yelled “Fire!” We practiced crawling low toward our primary exit. We felt the door with the back of our hand, and since it wasn’t hot, we slowly opened it, then crawled down the hall, down the steps, and felt our way to open the front door. When we were outside, we could take off our blindfolds and meet at the mailbox, which is our designated meeting place. If we actually had a fire, we then would have called 9-1-1 and waited for the fire department to arrive. No going back inside for anything, even the pets or a “can’t live without” iPhone. While there, we discussed our second way out should the primary exit be blocked by fire, heat, or smoke.

On the second, third, and fourth day of FPW, I visited 50 of my senior pals who live alone, and who don’t have the agility they once did. During the visit, I replaced the battery in their smoke alarm, using a gift of donated batteries from a local retailer from whom I had made the request a month ago. I found a few of these smoke alarms were more than ten years old. In that case, I replaced the entire smoke alarm, as recommended by the CPSC, NFPA, and other professional organizations. I showed my pals how to test their smoke alarm using a broom handle, and also taught them what a “silence” button was – in case they set the alarm off while burning the morning toast. Most new smoke alarms come with that feature, which makes it less likely that someone will disable a smoke alarm due to frequent nuisance alarms.

On Day 5 of FPW, I tested all of my own smoke alarms – all nine of them. I have one inside every bedroom, and in each hallway, as well as two in my basement. All of my alarms are interconnected. Seven of them came that way when the house was built. Two additional alarms in the basement (finished after the house was built) are interconnected wirelessly. There are some new smoke alarms that are designed now to be interconnected without having to run wires. And they integrate with the wired system that I have. Easy!

Note, I didn’t say that I changed batteries in my own smoke alarms. I actually do that on my birthday, which is in August. Okay, I’m a geek, and my family knows to give me batteries as birthday presents (smile.) Smoke alarm batteries only have to be replaced once each year in alarms that use regular alkaline (not Lithium) batteries – not more often. The old saying “change your clock—change your battery” isn’t in sync with recommendations from the fire safety experts. Once a year is adequate, and less damaging to the environment.

On Day 6 of FPW, I arranged for visits from a chimney sweep and an HVAC technician to do their respective jobs at my home. I know that creosote built up in my chimney when I used it during all those big snows (and power outages) this past winter. Time to have the chimney professionally cleaned! I also had the HVAC tech make sure our gas-fueled furnace was in working order for the upcoming winter heating season.

On Day 7 of FPW, I visited my local fire station. I thanked the firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics for their service to our community. These professionals serve tirelessly and are committed to preventing a response, but I know they’re there when we need them. Thanks for all you do!

Throughout this process, I posted status updates on my Facebook page, including photos, reminding my FB friends to test smoke alarms, change batteries, change actual alarms if more than 10 years old, have professional services done such as chimney sweeping and HVAC service, and thanking the trained responders at a local fire station. In return, 29 of my friends told me that they did one or more of these activities… and probably more of them did it, too, but didn’t report. I also saw that my FB status updates were shared with hundreds of others, which was a pleasant surprise.

And best of all, one of my FB friends (Bill Delaney) invited me to write this commentary, which I’m pleased to do, in collaboration with our local Fire Department, and in saving lives and property. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not rocket science. It’s easy, fun, and engaging.

Rocky Lopes
Silver Spring, MD

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