Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Protecting your family from a home fire: 9 things you probably never knew

Say you have a kid who is enthralled with firefighters, fire trucks and fire safety. And say the good people of Kidde—yes, as in the world's leading manufacturer of fire safety products—ask if you'd both like to be a Kidde ambassador. Might you be a little excited? Might your child screech in excitement? YES! Well, this is actually happening.

For the initiation, I was invited to a Safety Summit in Washington, D.C., with four other brand ambassadors. (Poor Max had school to attend). We learned a whole lot about fire safety, and even got to go door-to-door in a neighborhood with a local fire department to do a Smoke Alarm Canvas, inspecting alarms and installing free ones in homes with outdated alarms.

OK, so Max did get a wee bit perturbed when he saw pictures of me trying on firefighter gear. But he is super-excited to spread the word about fire safety in the upcoming year, as am I. These are some of the pointers I've picked up so far about key fire safety tips for your home.

1. You need a fire escape plan
Only 23 percent of people in this country have a fire escape plan, research shows. We're one of the ones who don't, and that's going to be changing soon! Ideally, you practice regularly throughout the year (both day and night), know two ways out of every room and pinpoint who will assist kids and adults with mobility issues. During the Safety Summit, we had the rare experience of taking part in a VES (Vent, Enter, Sweep) rescue training at a local abandoned mall that had been given to the local fire department to use for several months. A group of us stepped into a smoke-flooded space and carefully climbed the stairs. I could barely see a few inches in front of me.

The reality of what it's like to get caught in a fire. Firefighters use infrared cameras for visibility.
2. You have as little as two minutes to get out of the house during a fire
A Red Cross Fire Safety Poll shows Americans think they have as many as 10 minutes but the reality is, it's two minutes and can be even less time when a person with disability is involved. (Yet another reason you need that escape plan.) Sobering fact: 3200 people died in home fires in 2013, and about two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms reduce the chances of dying in a fire by nearly 50 percent, reports the nonprofit Safe Kids Worldwide, a partner of Kidde.

3. Close your bedroom doors at night
This one surprised me. But everyone in the house should sleep with shut bedroom doors, the best way to contain a fire, keep it from quickly spreading throughout a home and help protect yourself should one break out.

4. You need more protection than you think 
Ideally, you want a smoke alarm installed on every level in your home, in hallways and outside sleeping areas—as well as in each bedroom.

Fireman Max, an official Kidde Kid, will soon be doing an inspection to make sure we have enough smoke alarms.
5. Smoke alarms need to be replaced every 10 years, and carbon monoxide detectors, every five to seven years
I'd always thought as long as we keep replacing the batteries in our smoke alarms we'd be good, but no; the sensors of alarms and detectors lose their efficacy as the units accumulate dust and detritus over the years. Kidde has Worry-Free sealed-in lithium battery alarms that last for 10 years (the life of the alarm), including a new battery-powered Combination Smoke and CO Alarm (with a voice alarm), so you never have to change a battery for the life of the alarm. Best gift I ever got at an event.

6. To use a fire extinguisher, remember: P.A.S.S.
Given that many of us have never had to use a fire extinguisher, it pays to get a couple of small ones and practice in an area outside where you don't care about a lot of dust. (Just note that after you practice, you can't use the extinguisher again.) Remember this acronym:
Pull the pin on the fire extinguisher handle.
Aim the nozzle/horn of the extinguisher a the base/bottom of the fire.
Squeeze the fire extinguisher handles together to make the extinguisher work.
Sweep the extinguisher nozzle/horn from side to side, as if you were using a broom.
Note, extinguishers tend to expire within 10 to 15 years but if yours doesn't have an expiration date, you want to make sure the pressure gauge is in the "green" area—check yours regularly.

7. Never throw water on a kitchen fire
There are close to 155,000 kitchen fires a year, many caused by heating fat or oil. Never, ever throw water on a kitchen fire—it won't put it out and could cause a steam burn. Try to cover the flames with a lid. Next option: Toss a damp cloth over them or, better yet, use a kitchen-designated fire extinguisher that packs special dry chemicals geared toward putting out oil fires. The Kidde Fire Extinguisher RESSP is made specifically for residential cooking equipment.

Cutting boards: check! Kidde kitchen fire extinguisher: check! A kajillion hoarded plastic bags: check!
8. That dryer lint: Clean it.
As high-efficiency and fancy as many dryers are these days, the fire service is seeing a higher reported number of fires caused by improperly maintained dryers, we learned when we visited Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department in Maryland. In other words, clean that dryer vent regularly. You can suck out even more lint with a vacuum cleaner, a weirdly satisfying activity.

9. There's a reason smoke alarms beep at 2 a.m.
When a smoke alarm's battery falls beneath a certain voltage, the alarm chirps. During the daytime, a dying battery may have enough power to keep going. But at night, when temperatures in a home drop, it slows the chemical reaction of the battery—and that annoying chirp can start, along with that familiar wife-to-husband chirp, "Please find a new battery now!"

For more information, check out: 

Kidde on Facebook
@KiddeSafety on Twitter
@kiddefiresafety on Instagram

This post is one in a series sponsored by Kidde, for whom I am a compensated ambassador.


  1. This is great information, thank you! I'm excited on Fireman Max's behalf that you got to do all this :) I'm wondering if you could answer a question I always have regarding the escape plans - at what age would you start instructing your child to try to exit on their own? I'm not clear on when its safer for a child to wait for assistance versus trying to leave on their own. If you can offer any insight I appreciate it!

    1. An excellent q! We are going to be doing a home fire safety inspection and I will ask the fire chief that q and report on it in my post.

  2. This is so cool. Look at the impact Max is making! Though it is a partnership between you (and an effective blend at that!) it's truly safe to say this one would not have happened without him. Yeah!

  3. I would have needed the hoarded plastic bags. Kamikaze puking on a 10 hour bus ride is the worst.


Thanks for sharing!

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