The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urge consumers to take time during Fire Prevention Week to check their homes for fire risks and to develop and practice a family escape plan.
CPSC estimates an annual average of more than 386,000 unintentional residential fires, nearly 2,400 deaths and more the 12,500 injuries each year from 2006 through 2008.
"Build layers of fire safety in your home," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Install smoke alarms on every floor and in every bedroom. If you already have smoke alarms, make sure they are working. Smoke alarms provide early warning of a potentially deadly fire and can reduce the risk of dying from fire in your home by almost half."
"Planning a home fire escape is an essential part of being prepared to act and get out quickly if a fire occurs," said NFPA President James M. Shannon. "Develop a fire escape plan that identifies two ways out of every room and a family meeting place outside. Practice your plan at least twice a year."
Safe practices, such as the following, are the first line of defense in preventing a fire in your home:
1. Install smoke alarms - A smoke alarm should be installed on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas and inside bedrooms. When it comes to surviving a fire, a smoke alarm is critical for early detection of a fire and can mean the difference between life and death. About two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or smoke alarms that don't work.
Install both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms. Alarms should have battery backup. Consider installing interconnected smoke alarms because when one sounds, they all sound throughout the home.
2. Have a family escape plan - Develop and practice a family escape plan. Make sure everyone knows how to escape when the smoke alarm sounds, whether awake or asleep at the time. The best plans have two ways to get out of each room. Designate a meeting place outside. Once out, stay out! To help make a family escape plan, see this NFPA publication.
3. Cook safely - Stay in the kitchen and keep a watchful eye while you are cooking. Unattended cooking is the number one cause of cooking fires. Cooking equipment accounted for the largest percentage of home fires from 2006 through 2008 that were reported by fire departments. For this time period, CPSC estimates an annual average of nearly 150,000 cooking fires which is nearly 40 percent of unintentional residential fires. These fires resulted in an average of 150 deaths each year.
4. Fireplace safety - Have fireplace flues and chimneys inspected for leakage and blockage from creosote or debris every year. Store fireplace ashes in a fire-resistant container, and cover the container with a lid. Keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles. Dispose of ashes carefully, keeping them away from dry leaves, trash or other combustible materials.
Heating and cooling equipment accounted for the second-largest percentage of home fires from 2006 through 2008. CPSC estimates an annual average of nearly 57,000 fires and 220 deaths during that time period. Fireplaces and chimneys represented the majority of those fires with an annual average of nearly 27,000 from 2006 through 2008.
5. Electrical safety - CPSC estimates there was an annual average of 150 deaths from 2006 through 2008 attributable to electrical components.
Check the ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in your home to make sure they're working. GFCIs can prevent electrocution. CPSC recommends installing GFCIs in the kitchen, bathrooms and other areas where the risk of electric shock is higher.
Install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). AFCIs are designed to protect against fires caused by arcing faults in a home's electrical wiring.
For more information, see CPSC's "Home Electrical Safety Checklist."
6. Avoid mattress fires - Don't allow children to play with candles, lighters or smoking materials. Extinguish candles before you leave the room. Buy a mattress that meets the federal flammability standards. The open flame standard limits the intensity of mattress fires and provides more escape time for consumers.
7. Use caution when smoking - Smoking materials caused the most deaths in residential fires, an average of 600 deaths each year from 2006 through 2008. Don't smoke in bed.
8. Don't use gel fuel in firepots - CPSC has recalled millions of bottles of gel fuel due to burn and flash-fire hazards. The pourable gel fuel can ignite unexpectedly and splatter onto people and objects nearby when it is poured into a firepot that is still burning. Contact the manufacturer to return the product for a full refund. There have been deaths associated with gel fuel.