In 1917, a great fire destroyed the homes of 10,000 Atlantans, according to a Georgia Public Broadcasting documentary. According to the program, the predominance of wooden structures caused the fire to spread quickly. Since then, advances in building design have helped to reduce the likelihood of fires, but the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) reminds us that fires still caused more than $6 billion of damage to homes across the U.S. in 2011.
Locally, the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD) has 35 stations, which handled more than 96,800 calls last year, from fires to medical emergency and non-emergency calls. More than 80 percent of fires occur at home, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), so it’s important to plan for how to prevent and respond to them. In observance of Fire Prevention Week Oct. 6-12, consider the following tips to help prevent and prepare for a fire.
Outside the home: Make sure the surroundings around your home have been cleared of flammable materials like dried plants, firewood and propane tanks, and the I.I.I. advises that entrances are well-marked to help firefighters to enter easily.
The I.I.I. also urges homeowners to ensure that their buildings are constructed of fire-resistant materials. These include shingles or tin for roofing; and brick, stone or logs for exterior walls, according to a Home Ignition Zone Self-Assessment for Homeowners.
Alert and response systems: Smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and home sprinkler systems can help save lives, the NFPA says. Smoke alarms are available for purchase at local hardware and grocery stores, or through the Atlanta Smoke Alarm Program. To learn more about the program, call (404) 546-2733 or visit your local fire station.
Additionally, the I.I.I. says that professionally-installed lightning protection systems like lightning rods and surge protectors can also be helpful in preventing fires.
In the kitchen: About 40 percent of fires at home start in the kitchen, according to the NFPA. The NFPA offers some great suggestions on maintaining kitchens that are accessible and safe, including proper lighting and accessible cabinets. In addition, they offer a cooking safety tips sheet that focuses on properly attending to food being prepared using the stovetop or oven.
For children, the NFPA offers Sparky’s “Kitchen Rules,” a song about safe behavior in the kitchen. (Sample lyrics: “Kitchen rules are your safety tools / When you listen in the kitchen, then the kitchen rules!”). Additionally a Kitchen Safety Checklist featuring Sparky the fire dog helps parents teach their children about how to avoid getting burned or starting fires.
Make an Escape Plan: The NFPA says that many fires in the home can leave you with less than two minutes to escape, so it’s important to understand the best escape routes from your home and practice several drills with your family. Their easy-to-use Home Fire Escape Plan PDF can help –tips include finding at least two escape routes from every room, designating a meeting place outside and practicing your family’s fire escape drill.
“Get Outside and Stay Outside” is another kids’ song from the NFPA. Its lyrics emphasize the importance of escaping during a fire: “Come up with a plan, know where to be / Away from the heat, in front of the street.”
Catalog Your Possessions: In addition to educating your family, planning escape routes and building a kit, protecting your possessions is next on the list for fire preparedness. A home inventory helps document your valuables in case they’re lost in a fire. A digital tool can store details about your possessions, such as photos and receipts, and help you categorize them by room. A typical homeowners insurance policy includes coverage for losses due to fire. An update-to-date home inventory can help facilitate the claim process following a fire, according to the I.I.I.