Usually the last thing on any new apartment owner’s mind is fireproofing the area, but it’s a very important step in the move-in process. Many causes of home fires are mere carelessness or negligence of simple fireproofing techniques.
“The number one cause of fire in the home is unattended cooking,” Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Stephen Sapp said.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking fires account for 42 percent of all reported home fires and 37 percent of homeowner injuries. Frying is the most fire-prone cooking method and gas and electric ranges are responsible for the most home cooking fires.
Sapp said homeowners should always be sure to monitor their kitchen stoves and ovens and turn appliances off when they are done using them.
Another easily forgotten source of house fires is burning incense or candles. According to Liberty Mutual Insurance Company’s Fire Safety website, keeping candles and incense at least 1 foot away from curtains diminishes the risk of setting fire to your living room. The website said homeowners should always extinguish candles and incense when they are done using them.
The easiest way to fireproof your house is to ensure your smoke alarms are on and functioning.
“Having working smoke alarms increases your chances of safely escaping the house by 70 percent,” Sapp said. “The problem we find is that smoke alarms are present in over 98 percent of apartments and homes, but only a little over 50 percent actually work.”
Sapp said this is usually because of dead or missing batteries. He said a simple way to prevent this from happening is to check and change the smoke alarms’ batteries every six months.
Electrical fires are another leading cause of home fires. Especially in older homes or apartment complexes that were not designed to support so many electrical devices, wall sockets can be a significant fire hazard.
“Don’t overload electrical outlets,” Sapp said. “Use power strips and unplug devices when you’re not using them.”
Having a detailed escape plan is another precaution Sapp heavily recommended.
“Most fires happen at night when you are asleep,” he said. “Make sure you know what to do when the smoke alarm activates.”
Practicing the escape route a few times per year ensures everyone is aware of the agreed-upon protocol and does not panic if an emergency arises. If your home situation changes, such as the arrival of a new roommate, go over the emergency escape route with them immediately.
If you are a smoker or have guests who smoke, the NFPA recommends the use of deep, wide ashtrays on a sturdy table to dispose of smoking materials. Before throwing the ashtray contents in the garbage, douse them with water or sand to make sure they are completely extinguished. Do not just throw cigarettes on the ground when you are done with them.
“When people smoke outside on a deck, many simply toss their cigarettes off their deck, which can start a fire with the dry leaves or mulch on the ground,” Sapp said. “Especially when you have a party, be sure to have a good noncombustible ashtray.”
Sapp said each house should be equipped with at least one fire extinguisher. He said homeowners should make sure to store it near an exit in case the person using the extinguisher cannot control the fire and needs to leave the house quickly. All fire extinguishers should be mounted on the wall at eye level with the shortest person living in the house.
If the worst-case scenario does occur and a small fire starts in your home, make sure everyone in the house knows there is a fire and has left the building before you use the extinguisher.
“We truly suggest just getting out and calling 911,” Sapp said.