By Jake Verga
November is a time to stop, take stock, and reminisce on the things we are grateful for. Most do this with their family and friends as Thanksgiving approaches. We gather together in our homes to spend time and share a meal with the ones we love. While this is a time for reflection and celebration, making sure that everyone is safe during this holiday season is just as important. It may come as a surprise to learn that home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster, and they can happen when you least expect it. Just in the past year alone, Red Cross volunteers responded to more than 1,200 home fire emergencies in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake region. It’s never a bad idea to take pause and make sure you and your family are prepared with proper fire safety prevention and response plans.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are the most common days for cooking fires to happen. The easiest way you can avoid any holiday mishaps is to never leave cooking food unattended. If you need to leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove or have someone else wait in your place. With December right around the corner, candle safety is also important. December is the peak month for candle fires, which cause about 20 home fires a day on average in the U.S. If you plan on using candles in your home, keep them away from anything that could burn, and place them out of reach from pets and children. You should never leave burning candles unattended.
On top of cooking and candle fires, heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fires — a risk that increases with colder weather. You can keep your living space safe by providing at least three feet of space for all heating equipment. This is important because most home heating fire tragedies occur when flammable items like furniture, rugs and drapes are too close. In addition, never leave space heaters unattended as they’re involved in most fatal home heating fires.
The most important line of defense you have if a fire does occur are smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half. You can also help keep your family safe by testing your smoke alarms monthly and practicing your two-minute home fire escape drill. Take some time to teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like, and talk about fire safety and what to do in an emergency. Proper smoke alarm placement is very important as well. Place smoke alarms on each level of your home, including inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas.
To ensure they are functioning properly, test alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year, if your model requires it. Also check the manufacturer’s date of your smoke alarms. If they’re 10 years or older, they likely need to be replaced because components such as batteries can become less reliable. In your escape plan, include at least two ways to exit every room in your home. Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet.
Another life-saving tool that can help fight home fires is the fire extinguisher. When dealing with kitchen fires, having a Class B fire extinguisher, which are rated for fires involving flammable liquids such as kitchen grease, gasoline, oil, solvents and oil-based paint, can wind up saving a home in an emergency situation. If you have a fire extinguisher already, or plan on getting one, make sure the extinguisher is easily accessible and not obstructed, and has no visible damage to its exterior.
You can visit redcross.org/fire for more fire safety information this holiday season, including an escape plan to practice with your family. You can also download our free Emergency app (search “American Red Cross” in app stores and Google Play).