Fire kills! Here’s some KFD tips to keep safe

Fires kill about 5,000 Americans each year, more than all other natural disasters combined, but programs like Fire Prevention Week help educate communities on how to prevent a fire from breaking out in the home, and what to do if one should occur.

On Kaua’i, no house fires have been reported this week, perhaps because of this year’s “Team Up for Fire Safety” campaign organized by the Kaua’i Fire Department.

A big part of Fire Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association, involves the public schools – students in grades K-6 receive “Safety & Health Guide” workbooks and Sparky the Fire Dog travels on a fire engine to different schools to help firefighters show kids and teachers what to do if a fire starts.

When you’re young and immature, you really can’t comprehend the danger to life and destructive power of fire, but as we get older and place a value on our belongings, we do everything we can to prevent fire from breaking out in the home, Fire Department Battalion Chief Bob Kaden said.

If a fire starts, call 9-1-1 before trying to put it out with a fire extinguisher. Fires have a habit of getting out of hand quicker than ever anticipated, so call 9-1-1 for help. If the fire is extinguished, it’s always possible to cancel, said Kaua’i Fire Department Fire Prevention officer Russell Yee.

This year’s campaign focuses on three topics: installing and testing smoke alarms; practicing home escape plans; and hunting for home hazards.

– Installing and testing smoke alarms:

According to the NFPA, the only acceptable smoke alarms are those that pass specific safety standards and are approved by testing facilities like the Underwriters Laboratory.

There should be an alarm placed in each bedroom. Ceiling alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the wall; wall alarms should be 4-12 inches from the ceiling. Alarms shouldn’t be placed near windows or doors where smoke can be affected by wind.

Alarms should be tested monthly. Use an aerosol smoke product if permitted by the manufacturer. Get new batteries every year and replace alarms every 10 years.

Every family should buy the best quality alarms and fire extinguishers they can afford, and place the appropriate type in the appropriate places of the home, Kaden said.

– Practicing home escape plans:

“Know when to go…React fast to fire,” states the safety and health guide distributed to island schoolchildren this year. Families are encouraged to draw an escape plan and decide upon a safe meeting place at a neighborhood landmark like a street corner, nearby mailbox or utility pole.

Make sure that doors and windows are easy to open, adequately lit, and that there are sturdy escape ladders for upper-level windows if needed. Practice the escape plan at least twice a year with everyone who lives in the house.

Also, get familiarized with your workplace’s escape plan and share your home plan with visitors.

– Hunting for home hazards:

One of the biggest fire hazards is electrical appliances, such as the television, computer and stereo equipment. Even small appliances, like space heaters, fans and VCRs, can cause electrical fires if left on for long periods of time. Make sure there is ventilation around appliances and repair or replace frayed/ damaged cords.

The leading cause of house fires is inattention to cooking and unattended cooking fires, according to KFD inspector Russell Yee. Make sure that stoves and ovens are completely turned off when cooking is done. Also, don’t leave the oven or stove on if planning to leave the home.

Candles, incense, mosquito coils, smoking materials, matches and lighters are sources of fire. The “inquiry factor” with children is a major cause of fires in the home, so always keep these items out of their reach.

Do not put out a stove fire with water. Use a fire extinguisher, or if a pot’s contents are on fire, try to slowly slip the cover over. Turn off the stove, if possible. For an oven or microwave fire, turn it off and don’t open the door. Kaden said that in addition to a dry-chemical fire extinguisher, he keeps a flame-retardant cloth in his kitchen to throw over small fires.

Store flammable materials like oil, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, paint thinner and other chemicals in secure containers, in small amounts. Keep them outdoors in a storage shed or garage.

– Statistics and fire facts

Last fiscal year, July 1, 2001- June 30, 2002 there were 340 fires, of which five were in buildings. From Jan.-Dec. 2001 the Kaua’i Fire Department responded to 17 structure fires. So far this year there have been 11 structure fires.

The NFPA says that 94 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm and that half of all house fires occur in the houses without alarms.

More homes have smoke alarms that don’t work than those without smoke alarms. Also, the NFPA says that one-third of reported home fires are in homes equipped with smoke alarms that didn’t work. Homes with smoke alarms (whether or not they are operational) typically have a death rate of 40-50% less than for homes without alarms.

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