Basement and Home Fire Safety Guide
In 2016, the causes of residential fires broke down like this:
were a result of cooking accidents.
were caused by heating.
were due to carelessness or were in some way ‘unintentional’.
were a result of an electrical malfunction.
What the above data all show is that fire is actually somewhat predictable in terms of causes and behavior. The implications of this for fire safety are that it can actually be very simple to reduce the vast majority of fire causes in your home.
By going through your home and basement and thinking about common causes of fire, you can avoid most fires that are caused through ‘carelessness,’ and make sure that your home is as safe as possible.
Early Warning Devices
As mentioned above, fires can start in unpredictable ways at unpredictable times.
One of the best ways of preventing a fire from becoming deadly is through early detection.
This means that you should always have smoke alarm systems installed within your home and should test these regularly to make sure they are still active.
The most dangerous part of a home fire is the smoke that the fire causes. This often spreads faster and wider than the fire, meaning that smoke inhalation can affect those in the home before the fire even reaches the same floor.
Smoke inhalation is debilitating, can ultimately be deadly, and also prevents you from being able to navigate around your home.
By the time you see the smoke, therefore, it may be too late. A smoke alarm will give you advanced warning of smoke anywhere in your home, giving you precious time to escape while you still can. This can be particularly valuable if a fire starts at night when you are sleeping.
The National Fire Protection Association (NPFA) recommends that smoke alarms need to be installed on every floor of your home. They should all be interconnected so that smoke in one part of the home alerts all the other alarms.
If you have a large home, you may need to install additional smoke alarms so that you can hear the warning in all parts of the house. The NPFA recommends that you test your smoke alarm every month and replace any smoke alarm that is older than 10 years. In general, the more modern a smoke alarm, the better.
Carbon Monoxide alarm
Carbon Monoxide is also a major cause of death and is closely related to home fire safety. Installing carbon monoxide alarms is mandatory in many states.
Carbon monoxide is particularly deadly because it is an odorless, colorless gas. Carbon Monoxide is caused by fuels burning incompletely. It is particularly dangerous to the young and senior citizens.
Carbon Monoxide alarms should be installed on every level of your home and in a central location (i.e. not on the ceiling or high on the wall). Like a fire alarm, all carbon monoxide alarms should be connected.
You should also regularly test your carbon monoxide alarms. If you hear the alarm sound, you should immediately evacuate your home, moving to a location with fresh air. Open the doors and windows and wait for emergency services before re-entering your home.
Fire Mitigation Materials
Although the first option in the event of a fire should be to evacuate, in some circumstances, it is possible to extinguish a fire before it spreads.
Since most fires are caused while cooking, many start small and can be caught before they cause too much damage. Making sure your home has an adequate number of fire extinguishers is a crucial first step in this respect.
You should have a fire extinguisher on every floor of your home, and they should always be placed in an easy-to-reach location. Having to hunt for a fire extinguisher totally removes the advantage of having one.
You should also factor in size when it comes to fire extinguishers; smaller ones have smaller canisters, and therefore fewer flame-retardant chemicals inside, although this makes them easier to maneuver.
Fireproof paint is a cheap and easy way to make your home safer. This paint (which actually functions more like a glaze) provides an additional surface between the fire and any flammable materials in your home.
Fire doors provide an effective seal between rooms, preventing a fire from easily accessing the oxygen it needs to grow. Fire doors are heavy doors that should remain closed at all time (many have hinges that automatically close it).
These should always be left closed, otherwise they are ineffective. Installing these, particularly between the basement and your home can also do a great deal to buy time in the event of a fire.
Since evacuation is always Plan A during a house fire, you should make sure that you have as many different fire escapes as possible.
Moreover, you should discuss with your family and other housemates about the plan for evacuation.
Most modern household goods are designed to be as flame retardant as possible. For example, most mattresses made since 1990 are far more flame resistant than their older models. Within your home, take note of when the objects in your home were made.
Preventing Electrical Fires
Electrical fires can be dangerous within a home because of how quickly they can spread. Furthermore, electrical fires cannot be put out with water.
Water can actually cause electrical fires to spread even faster. As a result, you should run an inspection of the wiring within your home on a regular basis.
When checking the wiring, the first place to examine is the breaker panel. Check to see if there are any obvious signs of damage (frayed wires, smoke marks, etc.).
If you see any, then you should call in a professional, as attempting to fix it yourself could be dangerous and may cause damage (or even start a fire).
Fire Prevention Through Housekeeping
One of the best ongoing tasks you can undertake to minimize the risk of fire is housekeeping.
Tidying your home will mean that there are fewer loose objects that can catch fire and that, if a fire does start, there will be less fuel for it to spread.
Tidy all flammable materials
Flammable materials such as oily rags should be stored in an airtight container. A small spark can be enough to ignite an oily rag, and this can be all it takes for a major blaze to start.
In addition, your basement should not be where you store trash.
In effect, trash (and particularly recycling) serves as excellent fuel for a fire; storing it in the basement means you are turning your home into a giant bonfire.
Take your trash out regularly or store it in a part of your home not directly connected with the main building.
Lint in dryer
Every time you do the laundry, you should remove the lint from your dryer. Because of the heats attained by your dryer, it represents a potential fire hazard, and lint can serve as the fuel to grow the blaze.
Every six months or so, you should also check the connections on the dryer to make sure they are free from lint, and that any foil or ducting material is either in full working order or has been replaced with something less flammable.
Checking your dryer should be a regular part of your ongoing home maintenance (along with the smoke alarms and other utilities and appliances).
The next step is to make sure that if a fire does start, you and your family can get to safety as quickly as you can. For smaller fires, this may also involve extinguishing it yourself to prevent it from becoming a larger fire.
By being conscious of the risks, and the patterns that fire takes, you can be as well prepared as possible to eliminate the risk of fire, mitigate before it grows, and to evacuate if you can’t contain the fire. In all of these cases, advance preparation is key in dealing with what can be an unpredictable – but not random – phenomenon.
Sources and Further Reading