House fires are sadly very common in the United States, with almost 1.4 million occurring in 2020 alone. They resulted in roughly $23 billion in damages and over 3,000 deaths that year!
The risks of fires at home fall especially hard on seniors, who are a staggering 2.5 times more likely to die from a fire than the rest of the population. With this in mind, preventing house fires is key to protecting you, your loved ones, and your home. Vigilance is essential to prevention, which means regularly checking your house for any fire risks.
If you don’t know what to watch for, this task may seem daunting, but with Medicareful Living’s help, it’ll turn this monthly or quarterly chore into a breeze. Be sure to read to the end, where we have a handy Home Fire Safety Checklist!
Check and Maintain Smoke Alarms
Being alerted to a fire in your home as early as possible is paramount to preventing it from growing into a real problem. Regularly inspecting and maintaining your system of fire and smoke alarms throughout the house is critical to this endeavor. Each month, you should test your smoke alarm to ensure it’s still working. Most smoke alarms can be checked by pressing the button on the shell of the alarm until the alarm sounds. If it does, you know your alarm is working.
You should also clean out any dust that may settle in the alarm over time. You can clean them easily with a dry rag or a can of compressed air. While your monthly alarm-check is a good time to do this, you can usually also do it every other month or even twice a year, depending on how dirty or dusty they get. Cleaning the alarms ensures that smoke or carbon dioxide (which many alarms now can sense) can reach the sensors.
While your monthly alarm-check is a good time to clean the alarms, you can usually also do it every other month or even twice a year, depending on how dirty or dusty they get.
Depending on the type of smoke alarm you have, you will likely also need to check the batteries. If you have a wired alarm, it’s plugged directly into your house’s electrical system. This doesn’t mean you’re all set, though. Many hardwired alarms still have backup batteries that need to be checked monthly. If you have a battery-powered alarm, testing and replacing batteries is even more important, since that is the main power source. Either way, you should still replace the batteries annually, just to be safe.
Kitchen Fire Hazards
Of all the rooms in your home, the kitchen is by far the most common room in which a fire may occur. This is why you need to be extra careful when it comes to checking your kitchen for any fire hazards. Not only should you be extra vigilant about checking the fire alarms in your kitchen, it’s wise to have some way of putting out any fires that may occur. Consumer fire extinguishers are a great option, though you can use other methods to put out a fire in your kitchen. Remember, don’t put grease fires out with water! For a grease fire, turn off the heat, remove oxygen, and use an extinguisher or baking soda.
You should also ensure that any flammable materials are a safe from any heat sources that could cause them to be combusted.
To further prevent fires in your kitchen, you should maintain safe cooking practices at all times. Never leave a hot burner unattended for longer than a moment. You should also ensure that any flammable materials — cooking oils, napkins, etc. — are a safe from any heat sources that could cause them to be combusted. Finally, regularly cleaning your kitchen, specifically the cooking surfaces, will keep dust, oil, or other flammable materials off hot surfaces and under control.
Fire Hazards Around the Home
The kitchen isn’t the only place in the house where a fire can start. Sources of a live flame, especially if you’re not keeping a close eye on them, can easily spark into a house fire. If you’re ever burning a candle, have a fire going in the fireplace, or smoking inside the home, make sure you’re doing so safely. Candles should be burned in candle holders or containers that are sturdy and keep the flame away from other objects. The fireplace should always be monitored while in use, keeping all objects a safe distance from the flames. You should keep the fireplace clean of ashes and the room well ventilated. As for cigarettes, it’s best to smoke outside or in well-ventilated areas and extinguish the butt when you’re done with it (especially before sleeping), since smoking is one of the leading causes of deadly home fires.
If you’re ever burning a candle, have a fire going in the fireplace, or smoking inside the home, make sure you’re doing so safely.
You should also be keeping an eye on your electronics around the home. Specifically, space heaters (or any heat-creating electronics) should be placed a safe distance from anything flammable and on a sturdy, secure, nonflammable surface. Other electronics should be checked, too, since they can still cause house fires if they’re incorrectly used or installed. This means looking for frayed, aging, exposed wires or overloaded extension cords or surge protectors, for example. Use your common sense with these, erring on the side of caution.
While all these tips can help prevent a fire in your home, even the best prepared out there may find themselves in a fire emergency. For this reason, it’s also essential that you have a home escape plan in the event of a fire. This entails making sure you have a safe and easily accessible path to an exit in your home. This route should be easily maneuverable, one that you can take quickly without assistance. Make sure this plan is memorized and practiced in case you ever need it.
Home Fire Safety Checklist
- Check the batteries in your smoke alarms
- Test that your smoke alarms are working
- Clean your smoke alarms of dust
- Verify that heating surfaces are clear of flammable items
- Ensure fire extinguishers or other fire safety tools are available
- Clean kitchen surfaces
- Keep any candles in a solid container or candle holder
- Clear fireplace safe-zone of any flammable materials
- Clean fireplace of old ashes
- If you smoke, make sure there are ash trays in prime smoking areas
- Ensure space heaters or heating-making electronics are secure and safe
- Check electronic wires for unsafe conditions
- Make sure plugs or surge protectors aren’t overloaded or are in good condition
U.S. Fire Administration — Fire Safe Seniors Implementation Guide