As the public largely remains at home in response to COVID-19, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges added caution around home fire safety in the days and weeks ahead.
According to NFPA, cooking, heating, and electrical equipment are among the leading causes of home fires year-round. “We already see the majority of fires happening in homes,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “As people spend much more time at home and engage in activities that significantly contribute to the home fire problem, it’s critical that they recognize where potential hazards exist and what they can do to prevent fires.”
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and is responsible for nearly half (49 percent) of all reported home fires involving cooking equipment.
Moreover, unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires, meaning that home cooking fires occur most often when people aren’t keeping a close eye on what they’re cooking.
“As many households are now dealing with unusual routines and out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, such as kids home from school and parents working from home, there’s greater potential for distracted cooking,” said Carli.
NFPA statistic show that heating equipment is the second-leading cause of home fires, resulting in an average of 52,050 home fires each year. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment is involved in an annual average of 35,100 home fires.
With everyone at home, people may be using the same outlets to charge phones, laptops and other digital equipment, which also presents a fire hazard.
With these concerns in mind, NFPA reminds the public to use best practices for staying fire-safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond:
- Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
- If you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
- Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop.
- Make sure all handles are turned inward, away from where someone can grab a hot handle or tip a pan over.
- Be on alert. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, refrain from using the stove or stovetop.
- If you have young children in your home, create a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet (1 meter) around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
- Keep anything that can burn at least three-feet (one meter) away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
- Have a three-foot (one meter) “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.
- When charging smartphones and other digital devices, only use the charging cord that came with the device.
- Do not charge a device under your pillow, on your bed or on a couch.
- Only use one heat-producing appliance (such as a coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) plugged into a receptacle outlet at a time.
- Major appliances (refrigerators, dryers, washers, stoves, air conditioners, microwave ovens, etc.) should be plugged directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Extension cords and plug strips should not be used.
- Check electrical cords to make sure they are not running across doorways or under carpets. Extension cords are intended for temporary use.
- Use a light bulb with the right number of watts. There should be a sticker that indicates the right number of watts.
In addition, smoke alarms should be located on every level of the home, in each bedroom, and near all sleeping areas. Test them monthly to make sure they’re working. NFPA also strongly encourages households develop and practice a home escape plan to ensure that everyone knows what to do in a fire and can escape quickly and safely.
(To this NFPA article we also would add that you should have one or two fire extinguishers in your home.)
For a wealth of NFPA resources and information on home fire safety, visit www.nfpa.org/Public-Education.
About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global self-funded nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.. For more information, visit www.nfpa.org. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.
The days are noticeably shorter, and we’re seeing cool, crisp weather. Along with the colorful foliage and cooler season, it’s good to check your home to make sure it’s ready for winter.
Here are some smart fall safety tips to make now according to the safety experts at Underwriters Laboratories* and Safebee.
Before you turn your furnace on, check around it to make sure there’s nothing flammable near it. It’s also a good idea to have your furnace inspected before winter. If you can, inspect it yourself to make sure the flame is blue, not yellow or orange which indicates possible contamination or clogging of the fuel inlet. Check the pipe from the furnace to the chimney to be sure it doesn’t have rust spots and isn’t disconnected at either end. If you have radiators, remove anything that’s sitting on top of them before the heat comes on.
Dress kids in light-colored clothing to help drivers see them on their way home from after-school activities. On Halloween, make sure your kids can be seen. Give them a flashlight and glowstick, and if their costume is dark, add some reflective stickers or tape. High-visibility vests with reflective tape are also a good idea.
Change smoke detector batteries when you set your clocks back. Smoke alarms most often fail to sound an alarm because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries. Replace the batteries twice a year when you change the clocks (or whenever the alarm “chirps,” indicating the battery is getting low). Also change the batteries in your CO detectors.
Remember also the Maryland state law, which may also be law in other states, that when you replace a smoke alarm you must replace it with a 10-year, sealed-battery type alarm. Combination smoke/CO alarms are also available, as are wireless devices that communicate with each other. These are useful if you have a combustion-type heat source, such as a propane heater. Check with your local fire department for further details.
Another fall safety tip is to practice your family fire escape plan before the weather gets too cold. Every family should have one, but just one in three American households do, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Having the plan is important, but it’s just as critical to practice it by conducting a home fire drill at least twice a year. Frightened kids may be tempted to hide under the bed or in a closet during a fire unless you teach them exactly how to escape.
Use space heaters safely. Remember to keep combustibles “three feet from the heat” or “a meter from the heater.” If you’re using a fuel-powered heater, open a door or window slightly to allow fresh air to circulate. Remember to turn off your heater when you leave the house and before you go to bed.
Diathermic oil-filled radiator-type space heaters pose less of a fire threat than those with open elements, but care should still be taken when using them.
Add motion sensor outdoor lighting around dark areas. Lighting discourages intruders and protects against falls. Motion sensor lights are most important around doors and near steps.
Clean leaves out of your gutters every week in the fall. When you do, make sure you’re using the right ladder for the job and using it properly. More than 90,000 people get emergency room treatment for ladder-related injuries every year. If the gutters are hard to reach, install a leaf guard to keep most of the leaves out.
Be sure to test your step on a ladder before you commit your weight to it. Don’t reach out past where it is comfortable or let go with both hands, and be sure the ladder is set on a firm and level surface.
Have your chimney inspected before you use your fireplace. If you use it every year, have the chimney cleaned annually to prevent a fire. If your chimney needs repair, don’t try to do it yourself; this is a job for a professional.
Additionally, the Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends that you use only weatherproof electrical devices for outside activities. Protect outdoor electrical devices from moisture. Also, with the wet summer we had, make sure electrical equipment that has been wet is inspected and reconditioned by a certified repair dealer.
*Underwriters Laboratories, an organization that has been around for more than 100 years, is a world leader in product safety testing and certification. https://www.ul.com/
By Master Electrician Catherine Nazarene, Little Sparkie Electric LLC
Maryland has seen some warm winter days recently, but that doesn’t mean the dangers of space heaters are over. In fact, people may actually use the space heaters more to avoid cranking up the thermostat when temperatures drop. Unfortunately, they can pose significant fire and electric shock hazards if not used properly.
Fire and electrical hazards can be caused by space heaters without adequate safety features, by heaters placed near combustibles, or heaters that are improperly plugged in, or are plugged into receptacles with loose or improper wiring.
Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States, and more than 65,000 home fires are attributed to heating equipment each year, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).
These fires result in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage, says the ESFI.
Put safety first
- Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
- Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
- Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, don’t use the heater.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, and don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
- Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
- Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
- Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways, where they may pose a tripping hazard.
- Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
- Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or a carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
- Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.
Little Sparkie offers safety checks as part of our services, and we see scary things just about every day. We check circuit breakers and wire connections, look for deterioration and corrosion, run tests to help ensure that electrical equipment is functioning correctly, and make recommendations to help ensure safety.
And you should always check to make sure your smoke alarms are working; we also install hard-wired alarms to comply with local electrical codes.
If you have any concerns about your home or office’s wiring, please give us a call at 301-606-5181, or email us at [email protected]. We serve Frederick, Carroll, Howard and Montgomery Counties, along with Western, Southern, and Eastern Maryland, and Northern Virginia.