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4 Fire-Safety Mistakes to Avoid
Mistake: Calling the fire department before getting out of the house.
If the smoke alarm goes off, your instinct may be to call for help right away, but it's safer to leave the house first and call from a neighbor's. "People underestimate how quickly fire spreads," says Tom Harned, assistant fire chief in New Hanover, Pennsylvania, and a field manager for Liberty Mutual Insurance. "In minutes, the entire house could be in flames."
Do family fire drills twice a year to practice how to leave every bedroom through two different exits. (If one exit is a window on a high floor, stash a fire-resistant escape ladder in the room.)
Mistake: Not cleaning out the lint in your clothes dryer's filter.
If you often forget to clean the lint trap, the buildup can get too hot and catch on fire. Clean the filter every time you dry clothes and clean out the vents annually. (Use a special pipe brush, which is sold at hardware and home improvement stores.) Every few years, have the vents professionally cleaned to prevent buildup in places you can't see, says Harned.
Also regularly check extension cords for any cracks or tears, which can lead to shorts in the wire. "Extension cords should really only be used temporarily," Harned explains. "If you're using one all the time, have an electrician put in an additional outlet."
Another commonly overlooked fire trigger: space heaters. Never use them while you're sleeping, and always keep them far away from anything that could catch on fire (such as bedding or curtains), says Angela Mickalide, PhD, director of research and programs for Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing injuries.
Mistake: Forgetting to check your smoke alarms.
Though 96% of homes have smoke alarms, only about 75% of them actually work, says Dr. Mickalide. To make sure you're protected, dust off alarms weekly (dirt can stop them from working), test the batteries monthly (in addition to replacing them once a year)—and replace the entire alarm every eight to 10 years. "The parts deteriorate over time," Dr. Mickalide explains.
And one alarm is not enough—to guarantee safety, you need one on every level of your house (including in the basement and attic), as well as in each bedroom. That's the only way to make sure that an alarm will go off promptly and everyone will hear it.
And don't overlook the importance of having a carbon monoxide detector:About 60% of homes don't have them, says Angela Mickalide of Safe Kids Worldwide. Carbon monoxide can come from anything in your house that burns fuel, such as a gas stove, gas water heater or chimney; since it's odorless and invisible, you won't know if it's a risk to your health unless you have a detector. Too-high levels can cause flulike symptoms, but many people die from carbon monoxide without getting any warning signs. (Scary, but true.) Young children are especially vulnerable because their smaller bodies metabolize this gas faster.
Mistake: Pouring water on a greasy pan that's caught fire on the stove.
Water puts out fire, right? Not when it comes to grease fires. "The water turns into steam and picks up the cooking oil, and you can end up with an even larger fireball," says Harned. Instead, smother the flames by sliding a pot lid or cookie sheet across the top of the pan.
Get a detector for every level of your house (put one near the sleeping areas, such as in the hallway between your bedrooms) and replace it every five to seven years.
October 1st is National Family Fire Drill Day. Take the opportunity to brush up on fire-safety practices and procedures, talk to your kids about your family's emergency plan and practice a fire drill at home.
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