Every year devastating fires constitute the number one residential and commercial property loss. During a typical year, home electric problems account for 90,000 fires, over 700 deaths, and $700 million in property losses. Home electrical wiring causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by themisuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
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Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 700 Americans each year and injure 3,000 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
During a typical year, home electrical problems account for 90,000 fires, over 700 deaths, and $700 million in property loses. Home electrical wiring causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances.
December is the most dangerous month for electrical fires. Fire deaths are highest in winter months, which call for more indoor activities and increase in lighting, heating, and appliance use. Most electrical wiring fires start in the bedroom. Most electrical fires result from problems with “fixed wiring” such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with frayed cords and damaged plugs, such as extension and appliance cords, also cause many home fires. Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance and running cords under rugs in high traffic areas.
Home appliances most often involved in electrical fires are electric stoves and ovens, coffee makers, dryers, central heating units, televisions, radios and record players. You will have a much greater chance to avoid the devastating effects of fire if you take action now to reduce the risks of fires in your home. Always use a qualified electrician for all electrical wiring work. Never attempt to do it yourself. Self-help centers may be great, but let a qualified electrician do the wiring. Too many things can go wrong.
Install safety switches and correct fuses. If a fire starts, turn off power at the power point or switchboard immediately, if safe to do so.
You can reduce your risk of a house fire causing serious property damage, serious injury, or loss of life by having a working smoke alarm, making a home escape plan, and installing home fire safety equipment.
Safety Home Check List
1. Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
2. Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
3. Use electrical extension cords wisely and don’t overload them.
4. Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
5. When buying electrical appliances look for products which meet the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) standard for safety.
6. Don’t allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons and hair dryers. Space heaters should have a tip-over switch that turns off the heater if tipped.
7. Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least three feet away from all heaters.
8. If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
9. Never overload extension cords and wall outlets. Immediately shut off, and then professionally replace light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker. Use safety closures to “child-proof” electrical outlets. If you have to use more than one item to an outlet use a surge suppressor bar. A hot wire or appliance or a flickering light are indicators that something is wrong and needs repair. Safety closures cost only pennies and can save life.
10. Check your electrical tools and appliances regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats or gives off smoke or sparks.
There are two principle types of smoke alarms, Ionization and Photoelectric. Ionization smoke alarms predominately detect the presence of extremely small particles of smoke while photoelectric predominately detect visible smoke.
Early findings from research being conducted by the Fire Industry’s Cooperative Research Center have concluded that photoelectric are consistently more effective than ionization alarms at detecting smoldering fires in homes. In such fires ionization alarms may not alert occupants in time to escape safely. Photoelectric alarms increase the likelihood of all types of fire being detected in the home.
Until recently consumers have been left to choose the most appropriate smoke alarms for their homes. Most consumers have chosen the cheaper and more common ionization smoke alarm. Research indicates that although both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms provide occupants time to escape, it concludes that photoelectric alarms should be promoted as the technology of choice.
Residents have removed the battery from their smoke alarm because it was frequently set off while cooking. If you experience this problem, rather than take the battery out of your smoke alarm, consider the following options:
- Move the alarm further away from the cooking area.
- Install a photoelectric smoke alarm.
There are a range of fire extinguishers on the market suitable for home use, however the most common fire extinguisher for the home is the dry chemical extinguisher. These can be ordered via CFA’s Fire Equipment Maintenance website at www.fem.cfa.gov.au or purchased from your local hardware store.
The following table indicates the different types of fire extinguishers and what type of fires they can be used.
||Red and White Band
||Paint, gasoline, cooking, electrical, motor vehicles
||Wood, cloth, plastic, and paper fires
||Flammable liquid fires
||Red and Black Band
||Electrical, cooking, gasoline and motor vehicles
||Cooking oil fires
||Red and Yellow Band
Gasoline, motor vehicle and electrical fires
Home Escape Plans
Every household should have a home fire escape plan, but research shows that the majority of households do not have one.
The “it won’t happen to me” attitude can lead to tragedy a fire in the home can happen to anyone.
Many people over estimate the time the have to escape a fire. A working smoke alarm can give you an early warning of a fire in the house, especially at night when people are asleep.
In a fire, smoke can fill a house in a matter of minutes:
- You may have no idea where the fire is
- Visibility will be almost non-existent
- The smoke will make breathing very difficult
These factors can easily lead to panic, and there can be tragic results.
Families who are well prepared for a house fire are more likely to escape their homes safely.
Making a Home Fire Escape Plan
Draw a floor plan of your home making sure to mark in at least two ways out (including windows) of every room. Decide on the best escape routes to help you draw your floor plan. (Use attached grid plan)
- If your home has a second floor consider how you will exit from upstairs windows. Many hardware stores sell chain or rope ladders for this purpose.
- If you have window locks fitted, make sure keys are accessible should they be required.
- If children’s bedrooms are located at the other end of the house, consider how you will be able to reach them if access is blocked by fire. Remember that children may not wake up to the sound of a smoke alarm operating.
- If your household includes members who are elderly or disabled or have limited mobility, you will need to make special arrangements in your plan.
- Make sure all your members of the household know how to crawl low in smoke where the air is cooler and clearer, and that doors need to be tested for heat with the back of the hand, before opening them.
- Include an outside meeting place, such as the mailbox , so that all members of the household know where to meet.
- Practice your plan at least twice a year so that everyone knows what to do.
- Shut doors behind you to deter spread of fire. Air flow aids a fire.
- Contact you local fire house or department to get added suggestions.
Remember, if there is a fire in your home...
- Get out of the house quickly and safely and stay out.
- Crawl low in smoke to assist breathing.
- If you catch on fire STOP, DROP and ROLL.
- Ring 911 from a neighbor’s home.
- Never go back in a burning house.