Fire Prevention Week is this week, and local emergency responders have provided tips for California residents to safeguard against fires as the weather begins to chill.
Observed annually during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, Fire Prevention Week serves as a time for children, adults and teachers to learn how to stay safe in the event of a fire. Since 1922, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has sponsored public observance of Fire Prevention Week — President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the week a national observance a few years later in 1925, making it the longest-running public health observance in the country.
Locally, California Fire Chief Allen Smith passed along information in line with the week's goals to help residents be better prepared.
"This time of year is when you should stop and reflect, and really think about fire safety, in your homes and in your schools," Smith said. "(It's an opportunity) to refocus on that and bring it to the forefront, to take care of matters or at least be thinking about safety."
- Check long-unused appliances at the start of heating season.
As the weather begins to cool here in early October, Smith said, now is a good time for checking the appliances that haven't seen use in a while — furnaces and other heating devices, as well as fireplace flues and woodburning stoves are all good candidates for an inspection before heavy use.
"We don't have as many people that burn wood as they used to, but it's still a good idea to have it checked if you do," Smith said.
- Be mindful of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Smith said one important hazard to look out for as winter approaches is carbon monoxide poisoning.
"They call it 'the silent killer' for a reasonthere's really no way of knowing (it's there) because it's odorless and tasteless and shows no signs, other than when you start feeling sick," Smith said.
With that in mind, Smith said, every home should have a carbon monoxide detector. In the city of California, even if there is a detector in the home, residents can still request a free inspection from the fire department to verify there aren't any issues. Smith said detectors can sometimes malfunction, so this route is always good to be safe.
Carbon monoxide can build up in the home in a number of ways — from blockages in a chimney flue to gas-powered appliances in the home or a misoperating furnace, to name a few examples. Because it's a gas, carbon monoxide will fill the entire home, even if it originates from one location initially. Smith said in the event that carbon monoxide levels are too high and the fire department does come out for an inspection, its detector will go off immediately upon entry.
"Typically, there's not one area that has a higher concentration than any other," Smith said. "It's usually something that starts with kind of a slow effect and builds up over a period of time. It'll basically fill the entire space of the home."
Smith did say that concentration levels could be higher closer to the source, but it doesn't take long for it to spread through the entire home.
If one finds oneself in need of a carbon monoxide detector, Smith said, they can typically be purchased at any hardware store — such as Orscheln's in California — or large department stores like Walmart.
- Smoke detectors can help emergency responders move more quickly to your aid.
Much in the same way that a carbon monoxide detectors is important to have in the home, so too is a functioning smoke detector. Smith said everyone should have a smoke detector, most of which are battery-operated. Some may be wired directly to the home, but in a lot of cases these variants will also include a backup battery in case of a power outage.
Smith said a smoke detector is only as good as the battery that's in it, so checking to make sure their batteries are in working order is an important safety step.
Smith said entities like the NFPA in years past have recommended changing smoke detector batteries once a year, but more recently have amended that directive to a more frequent once every six months. He said a good way to remember to do this is to change out smoke detector batteries every time the time changes for Daylight Savings Time.
Smith said California has a city ordinance mandating that owners of rental properties are responsible for providing tenants with smoke detectors. The tenant is then responsible for maintaining its functionality, primarily in the form of regular checks and battery changes.
"In our experience in the fire service and with the fires we've had, smoke detectors are a wonderful thing for us," Smith said. "Not only does it save lives, but if there is a problem in the house, it's an early warning. We're all about early warning — common sense, we can get there (sooner) and nip it in the bud."
- Don't ignore warning signs.
Smith said there are a number of ways to stay fire safe in the home, but one of the most important is to pay close attention to any warning signs. He said these can pop up when doing things like inspecting appliances in the leadup to winter or in the event of instances like a blown electrical breaker — that can be a red flag of something going wrong with a home's electrical system overall, he said, and is worth having checked out to be safe.
- General home fire safety tips
In terms of general housekeeping, Smith said, paying close attention to placement of space heaters can help to prevent fires, as well. Traditionally, space heaters specifically could be a big fire hazard, but more modern models tend to have safeguards in place to help prevent accidents.
"They're not so bad anymore — as we progress, things get safer," Smith said. "You think back to the '70s and '80s, some of these space heaters were really not safe at allthey've got them so safe now, as long as you have a newer one they have built in features, (like) if one tips over it'll automatically shut off."
Common sense can be one of the easiest ways to prevent fires, Smith said, being mindful of appliance use and heat sources.
Smith said he always recommends keeping a fire extinguisher in the home, as well. Most homes, he said, have a Class ABC fire extinguisher — these are effective against fires involving trash/wood/paper, liquids and electrical equipment. He said in conjunction with a smoke detector, this can help residents either successfully put out a fire on their own or inform the fire department early to prevent excessive damage.
"If it's a small fire, of course put it out if you feel you can do it safely — if you can't, call 911 just as soon as you can," Smith said. "We want people to be safe. You can replace some of your stuff, but you can't replace a life."
Smith said while extinguishing a fire independently can be possible, sometimes people wait too long to call — just a few extra minutes can make the difference in more drastic damage.
- Do your research
Smith said there are a wealth of fire safety resources available on the internet, and he recommends taking advantage of that knowledge. In particular, you can find more information about fire safety best practices and tips at nfpa.org.