The second week in October was Fire Prevention Week. This year, the National Fire Protection Association chose to promote smoke alarm replacement, urging people to replace all their smoke alarms once every ten years, at least. Unfortunately, prior to this campaign, only a very small percentage of people even knew that smoke alarms needed to ever be replaced, let alone how often. The truth is, smoke alarms have been proven life savers time and again. As a matter of fact, statistics show that three of every five fire-related deaths occur in homes without working smoke detectors. And, like most electronics, parts start to wear out after a certain amount of time. Sensors in smoke alarms have a ten year shelf life. After that point, they will no longer work.
The numbers are humbling when you truly take a look. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that seven people die in US home fires EVERY DAY. Three main issues tend to be the cause of most of these fires. First, cooking equipment is the leading cause of fires, such as stoves, hot plates, and even microwaves. After cooking equipment, smoking is the number two cause of house fires. Finally, heating equipment is listed as the number three cause of house fires. This can relate to radiators or even electric blankets and space heaters. Many of these causes can be prevented and, of course with the help of a working fire alarm, can at least result in no or fewer deaths.
Fires are not all easily preventable, nor do they all occur in the home. For instance, in 2015 alone, there were 501,500 structure fires in the US. That is one fire every 63 seconds. These fires resulted in estimated property damage totaling $10.3 billion. Structure fires can be caused by numerous, undetected issues, such as faulty wiring, lightning, or some other random act, such as an act of nature or even arson. People may be severely injured, or even killed, due to the lack of time to escape or lack of knowledge that the event is occurring.
Another source of fire accidents can occur on the highway. In 2015, there were 174,000 highway vehicle fires. In 2014, the number was 3.9% less. These fires caused a total of $1.2 billion in property damage. Causes may include accidents, faulty mechanics, or even smoking, as a cigarette can ignite the gas line if not disposed of properly. Many times, these fires are not preventable once the incident leading to its cause has occurred, such as the initial accident.
The good news is we have gotten smarter about fire safety. Since 1980, home fires and deaths have actually decreased by 50%. In 1980, there were an estimated 734,000 home fires, which had dropped to 365,500 in 2015. Deaths from these incidents also dropped, from 5,200 in 1980 to 2,560 in 2015. Much of this decrease is due to increased awareness and working safety equipment in the home.
For instance, one great idea that is being used in many homes is for each bedroom to have its own working smoke detector. In addition, people are checking the detectors once a month to ensure they are working properly and do not need new batteries or total replacement. Each home should have an ionization smoke alarm, which warns about flames, and a photoelectric alarm which warns about smoldering fires. And, those who are deaf or hard of hearing can also be warned by alarms specifically made for these groups. Finally, check the age of the alarm by looking on its back or side to find the date of manufacture. Remember, if that date is longer than ten years ago, replace the alarm immediately.
Some other useful tips that can save your life and your family members’ lives include teaching your children how to recognize the sound of a smoke alarm. Those not yet in school may not be used to the sound and may not know what to do should the alarm go off. Also, make sure you plan an escape route in case of a fire. It is easy to freeze in that situation, but time is of the essence. Have a plan, rehearse the plan, and use the plan. Finally, be smart. Keep open flames safe and secure as well as anything that can start a fire, like matches or a lighter. And if you smoke, make sure your ashtray is also secure and that your cigarettes are completely out.