A Few Words on House Fires… and Avoiding Them
I have been meaning to write this post for a long time. For those who don’t know me, I am very passionate about fire and life safety as a result of my parents losing their home in 2002. I woke up to find our house about 50% consumed by fire and then worked to wake and evacuate seven family members. Luckily, nobody was hurt and we only lost material possessions. The house was re-built and the experience only made us stronger.
One of my neighbors recently lost their entire house to a fire (picture below) while they were out of town. Numerous other houses in the area have also had large fires in the past few weeks. Several of these were too large for the fire department to control or extinguish upon their arrival (especially when in a rural area without hydrants). The math on the most recent fire in my neighborhood dictates that 80,000 gallons of water would have been needed to extinguish it based on the extent of involvement and size of the structure. A fire engine can only carry 1,000 gallons of water.
The purpose of the list below is literally to make a list of things you can do (pretty easily or inexpensively) to prevent a catastrophic event from happening. These are based on my own experience as someone who lost their home to a fire and has responded to thousands of emergencies since joining the fire service in 2003.
- $200 – Make sure your house is equipped with proper and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure you have early notification and time to escape. I have another post specifically about detectors. Equipping a decent sized house with all new detectors should cost a few hundred bucks. Make sure you test them regularly.
- $100/yr – Subscribe to a monitored alarm system. Sure, paying a monthly fee sucks but there are a lot of cheaper alternatives than the big names. A decent monitoring service should cost about $300 per year for a fire and burglar system. Some of them provide the initial equipment for free or have DIY kits. The majority of this cost is usually offset by a discount from your insurance carrier making the end result under $100 per year. These systems will provide detection and a response even when you aren’t home which could allow a small or smoldering fire to be found long before the entire house is consumed. As a bonus, these systems can also alert you to bad guys breaking into your house!
- $10 – Make sure your address number is visible from the road (from both directions) during the day and night. Emergency responders can’t help you if they can’t find you. The minimum required by law in this area is 3 inch high letters on a contrasting background. Reflective is even better.
- $20 – Have a kitchen fire extinguisher available. A lot of fires start as a result of cooking and water is not the way to put these out. Watch a video on how to use it too!
- $200 – Get your chimney or furnace and your dryer vent cleaned once per year. This is another common cause of fires that is easily preventable!
- $100 – Make sure you have a fire safe or safe deposit box to keep documents and valuables in. Consider putting a few copies of important photos inside as well.
- $0 – Make sure you register products in your house with the manufacturer so you can be kept aware of recalls. Make it a habit to check the CPSC site every once in a while. The news only pushes out flashy stories with this stuff. Our house fire in 2002 was started by a battery charger that was recalled in 1995!
- $0 – Don’t use cheap no-name or non-UL-listed electronics like surge protectors, toys, cell chargers, etc. Also don’t plug one multi-plug into another or use them in combination with heaters or other high-wattage equipment.
- $0 – Make sure your family has an escape plan and a meeting place. Practice your own fire drills a few times per year!
- $0 – Make an inventory of all the stuff in your house room-by-room. Photos and videos are even better. If something big does happen, this will help during the insurance claim process.
- Speaking of insurance claims, make sure you have a homeowners or rental policy and review it regularly to ensure proper coverage.
I hope this list is helpful. Feel free to comment or suggest additions on my Facebook page.