Home Fire Safety


Why should my home have smoke alarms?  In the event of a fire, a smoke alarm can save your life and those of your loved ones.  They are the single most important means of preventing house and apartment fire fatalities by providing an early warning signal so you and your family can escape.  Smoke alarms are the best safety devices you can buy and install to protect yourself, your family, and your home from fire.

Okay, Where do I put them?  Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.  Many fatal fires begin late at night or in the early morning.  For extra safety, install smoke alarms both inside and outside sleeping areas.  Also, smoke alarms should be installed on the ceiling or above eye level on the walls.  Since smoke and many deadly gases rise, installing your smoke alarms at the proper level will provide you with the earliest warning possible.  Always follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.

Where would I get smoke alarms?  Many hardware, home supply, or general merchandise stores carry smoke alarms.  If you are unsure where to buy one in your community, call your local fire department (on a nonemergency telephone number) and they will provide you with some suggestions.  Some fire departments offer smoke alarms for little or no cost.

Are smoke alarms hard to install?  Not a bit.  In most cases, all you will need is a screwdriver.  Many brands are self-adhesive and will automatically stick to the wall or ceiling where they are placed.  However, be sure to follow the directions from the manufacturer because each brand is different.  If you are uncomfortable standing on a ladder, ask a relative or friend for help.  Some fire departments actually will install a smoke alarm in your home for you.  Call your local fire department (again, on a nonemergency telephone number) if you have problems installing a smoke alarm.

How do I keep my smoke alarm working?  Smoke alarms are very easy to take care of.  There are two steps to remember.

1.  Simply replace the batteries at least once a year.  If your smoke alarm starts making a "chirping" noise, replace the batteries and retest it.

2.  Keep them clean.  Dust and debris can interfere with their operations, so vacuum over and around your smoke alarm regularly.

What if the alarm goes off while I'm cooking?  Then it's doing its job.  Do not disable your smoke alarm if it alarms due to cooking or other non-fire causes.  You may not remember to put the batteries back in the alarm after cooking.  Instead, clear the air by waving a towel near the alarm, leaving the batteries in place.

How long will my smoke alarm last?  About 8 to 10 years, after which time they should be replaced.  Like most electrical devices, smoke alarms wear out.  You should write the purchase date with a marker on the inside of your unit.  That way, you'll know when to replace it.  Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for replacement.

Anything else I should know?  Some smoke alarms are considered to be "hard wired".  This means they are connected to the household electrical system and may or may not have battery backup.  It's important to test every smoke alarm monthly and replace the batteries with new ones at least once a year.


Chimney, Fireplace & Woodstoves

To understand what causes a chimney fire, you must realize that when wood is burned, it gives off creosote, tars and resins.  These products collect in the flue liner.  If these products are allowed to build up, sooner or later they will ignite and burn vigorously inside the chimney.  Many times this type of fire will initially go undetected, allowing the fire to spread quickly to the attic and all concealed spaces between the fire box and the top of the chimney.  The following safety tips are necessary to reduce the risk of fire before a problem occurs.

Chimneys should be inspected and cleaned by professionals who use wire brushes and hitech vacuum cleaners.

Home flues equipped with wood burning stoves should be inspected once a year.  Dangerous deposits can build up in any flue, even those venting coal, oil or gas furnaces.

Chimney linings are an additional safety option.  Most experts advise against linings made of terra cotta tile, which can disintegrate or crack during a flue fire.  They claim the safest material is stainless steel because it draws the smoke more rapidly and reduces the buildup of creosote.

Check your flue regularly for any obstructions (squirrel, birdnests, debris, etc.).

Ask your fire department or stove and fireplace accessory store about special chimney fire extinguishers; keep one handy for every fireplace or stove.  A standard ABC extinguisher should also be on hand.

Learn about seasoned woods and which type of woods are best to burn.  Only hardwoods should be used as fuel, since softwoods have a high content of creosote and resin.  Remember, hardwood trees have leaves and softwood trees have needles.

Building scraps like two-by-fours, paneling, plywood and treated lumber should never be used as fuel due to a high content of creosote.  Most also give off extremely toxic and harmful gases.

Open the draft wide; don't pile on the wood and smother the fire because that builds up creosote in your stove and chimney.  Remember, high flames burning hot will burn clean.

Install a spark shield/arrestor or wire basket on top of your chimney.  The chimney should rise at least two feet higher than the roof peak or any tall, nearby objects.

Always use a fireplace screen or glass doors.  Do not keep your wood burning stove door open unless you have a screen or glass door backup.

Clean ashes out of fireplace or stove interior regularly and dispose of properly.