Preventing a house fire disaster from happening.

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Fire prevention week begins Oct. 8, so it’s only appropriate that I remind homeowners of what they can do to help prevent a home fire. Although fires can be devastating, you can protect your family and home with the right precautions and knowledge.

Every year, we are tragically reminded of smoke alarms that have failed or were not properly maintained or homes with missing carbon monoxide detectors. Please add this to your home maintenance list and do it. These small devices can save your life. 

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Smoke alarms should be in each bedroom, outside the sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement. Any smoke alarms older than 10 years, should be replaced, and if they are hardwired, have a battery backup in case of power failures.

Carbon monoxide detectors also need to be installed near sleeping areas and on every level of your home. These devices must be regularly tested, and batteries changed at least once a year. A good rule of thumb is to change batteries when we change the clocks.

Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher. But more importantly, ensure it is easily accessible and that you and your family know where they are stored and how to use them properly. To use a fire extinguisher, remember P.A.S.S.; pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, squeeze the trigger, and sweep back and forth at the base of the fire. Also, check to make sure they have not expired or have become damaged. I recommend having one in the kitchen, the garage, and near any fire-prone appliance like your fireplace or a wood-burning stove.

Heating equipment and systems need to be adequately maintained and regularly inspected to ensure they perform optimally — including a furnace, wood stove, and even a heat pump. If you have a working chimney, have it checked and cleaned annually. Keep combustible material away from space heaters, and never leave them unattended.

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I can’t talk about fire prevention without mentioning electrical safety. Faulty wiring and overloaded circuits are the leading causes of home fires. Don’t ignore the signs, like flickering lights, buzzing outlets, a burning smell, hot outlets or plugs. Call a licensed electrical contractor right away to get that looked at and fixed. 

While many people don’t smoke, because it’s not good for you, it’s also one of the leading causes of house fires. If you do smoke, do it outside and use an ashtray. Never throw away cigarette butts in mulch or pots since they can quickly catch fire.

Follow safe cooking practices in the kitchen, since this is where most home fires start, and never leave the stove or oven unattended while in use. Keep towels, curtains, and other flammable materials away from open flames. This is true for both indoor and outdoor kitchens. Also, if you are deep frying, be extra vigilant, as hot oil can cause terrible burns and easily ignite.

Many candle alternatives are available to create a cosy atmosphere, but if you like to light up candles, make sure to take the necessary precautions. Place candles away from curtains or other flammable materials, never leave them unattended and ensure they are in sturdy holders. Take extra precautions when young children are around.

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Speaking of young children or grandchildren, remember to teach them about fire safety. Keep lighters and matches out of little hands and ensure they understand the dangers of playing with fire and matches.

And finally, you need to have a fire escape plan. It could save your life. A fire safety plan should be reviewed at least once a year as this will ensure everyone in the home is prepared for the worst. Everyone should understand and know two ways out of each room in your home: a door or a window. 

If you have older parents living with you, especially if they have a disability, ensure they are protected too. Check windows regularly to ensure they can be easily opened. Practice your escape plan regularly, especially with young kids, and have a designated spot to meet once you are out of the house. Pets are family, too, so include them in your escape plan.

Though not mandatory, I’d also consider investing in a fire-resistant safe to keep important documents. Most things are replaceable, but having these protected could make rebuilding much less stressful.

It’s your responsibility to protect your family and your property, so follow these tips and regularly practice a fire escape plan. It only takes a moment for a situation to change, and it’s not just about reacting to fires, it’s about preventing a disaster from happening in the first place.

 

Residents of the GTA can apply for Holmes on Homes: Building A Legacy at makeitright.ca.

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