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Fire Prevention & Response

By: Jorge Palafox

July 28, 2011

Even though fire prevention has reduced the number of fires in the U.S., especially in the home, fire safety still remains a high priority.  Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die and some 25,000 are injured.  Most are preventable.  Property loss is estimated at about $8.6 billion a year.

Just a few facts

Fire spreads quickly.  Don’t underestimate the destructive force of even the smallest fire.  Our homes are full of fuel that can easily ignite and emit toxic gases.  There is no time to gather your valuables or even make that critical phone call for emergency help.  It takes as little as two minutes for a fire to become life-threatening.  Your home can be engulfed in flames in just 5-minutes. 

Heat and smoke are also dangerous to your health.  Inhaled super-hot air will sear your lungs.  Smoke is definitely a major toxin inhibiting your ability to breathe, and has proven to be fatal.  Asphyxiation is the leading cause of death, exceeding burns by a 3 to 1 ratio.  Fire is known to put people in a deeper sleep.  Some poisonous gasses produced by fire can make you disoriented and drowsy.

Prevention is your major protection against injury to your family and major damage to your home.

What protective measures to take

• Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home.  Ideally test them once a month, if not, check the batteries at least twice a year.  It is recommended to changes batteries once a year.  Replace the smoke alarm at least every 10 years.
• Sleep with closed doors.
• Determine your escape routes and review with your family.  Practice, practice, and more practice make for a better plan.  Make it fun for the kids.  Knowing how to escape from each room will save lives.
• Install A-B-C fire extinguishers.  Don’t forget to teach everyone in your household how to use them.
• You can ask your local Fire Department to inspect your home.
• Don’t forget, as of 7/1/11, it is law in CA to include a carbon monoxide detector in your home.

What to do during a fire

• If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop and roll.  It’s amazing how many people in complete panic forget and run.  Fire burns faster when you run.
• Check the closed door for heat.  Use the back of your hand to check the top of the door, the doorknob and the crack between the door and the doorframe.
• Do not use your palm or fingers to check the door, you may cause burn injuries that will affect your ability to escape, especially if you have to crawl or use a ladder.
• If the door is hot, use the window.  If you can’t escape through the window, hang a white or light-colored sheet out the window.  Fire fighters will know someone is present.
• A cool door may be safe to open.  Open slowly, ensure there are no obstacles, fire or smoke blocking your exit.  Leave immediately.  Don’t forget to close the door behind you to delay further spread of the fire.
• Be prepared to crawl low on the floor.  Heavy smoke, heat and poisonous gas collect first along the ceiling.
• Gather at a pre-determined reunification point.  Make sure all your household members are familiar where to meet.  In case your family members are separated, have an out-of-area contact everyone can call to check-in.

What to do after a fire

• Call 9-1-1 to deal with any burn victims.  If there is delay to treatment, cool and cover with a dry, preferably sterile, material to reduce further injury and infection.
• Do not open a safe or strong box.  It can hold intense heat; and, before being cooled, the contents can burst into flames.
• If a building inspector declares your home unsafe and you must leave your home, have a trusted neighbor keep a watchful eye on your property while you are away.
• Before entering your home:
Walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.
• Going inside :
Enter the home carefully and assess damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors.  Check the following items:

o Natural gas.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately.  Turn off the main gas valve.  Call the gas company. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on.  Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles, or torches for lighting inside until you are sure there is no leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
o Sparks, broken or frayed wires.  Check the electrical system (unless you are wet, standing in water, or unsure of your safety).  If possible, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.  Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they’re safe to use.  Have an electrician inspect your wiring.
o Roof, foundation, and chimney cracks.  If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
o Appliances.  If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.  Unplug appliances and let them dry out.  Have appliances checked by a professional before using them, as well as the electrical system by an electrician before turning the power back on.
o Water and sewage systems.  If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve.  Check with local authorities before using any water.  Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
o Food and other supplies.  Throw out all food and other supplies that you suspect may have become contaminated.
o Open cabinets.  Be alert for objects that may fall.
o Clean up household chemical spills.  Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals.  Also clean salvageable items.
o Call your insurance agent.  Take pictures of damages. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.  It is ideal to have a written or digital record of all your belongings, especially your valuables, prior to any emergency.


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