NFPA's Take: The Winter is Not Over Yet

A recent press conference in Washington D.C. featuring U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade and other top fire officials sounded the alarm for the public to pay greater attention to fire safety this winter. In particular U.S. Fire Administrator Cade urged people to make sure they have working smoke alarms in their homes. The call came in the wake of numerous multiple fatality fires that occurred over the holiday season and into the first days of the year. In a few of these fires, there were reportedly no smoke alarms.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) joined with these officials, many other safety organizations, and fire service across the country to echo the sentiment for greater vigilance towards prevention this winter. According to NFPA, December, January and February are the leading months for home fires. In 2007 there were an estimated 399,000 home fires resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths. Cooking is the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries. Smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths. Heating ranks second in home fire deaths overall, but is the leading cause in one- or two-family dwellings.

Many home fires can be prevented and if a fire does occur, smoke alarms provide the early warning necessary to get out alive. There are simple steps people can take to protect themselves, their families and their property. NFPA provides lots of resources to educate the community on those simple steps. Here are the key fire safety tips recommended by NFPA, each linking to additional information on the particular tip. Many have downloadable fact sheets that can be used for public distribution and community presentations.

  • Watch your cooking - Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you must leave, even for a short time, turn off the stove. Click here for information.
  • Give heaters space - Keep portable space heaters at least three feet from anything that can burn. Turn off heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep. Click here for information.
  • Smoke Outside - Ask smokers to smoke outside. Have sturdy, deep ashtrays for smokers. Click here for information.
  • Keep Matches and Lighters Out of Reach - Keep matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a cabinet with a child lock. Click here for information.
  • Inspect Electrical Cords - Replace cords that are cracked, damaged, have broken plugs, or have loose connections. Click here for information.
  • Be Careful When Using Candles - Keep candles at least one foot from anything that can burn. Blow out candles when you leave the room or go to sleep. Click here for information.
  • Have a Home Fire Escape Plan - Make a home fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year. Click here for information.
  • Install and Test Smoke Alarms - Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Interconnect smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound. Test smoke alarms at least once a month and replace batteries once a year or when the alarm "chirps" to tell you the battery is low. Replace any smoke alarm that is more than 10 years old. Click here for information.
  • Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms - Install CO alarms in a central location outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. Click here for information.
  • Install Sprinklers - If you are building or remodeling your home, install residential fire sprinklers. Sprinklers can contain and may even extinguish a fire in less time than it would take the fire department to arrive. Click here for information.

In addition, NFPA has put together a number of community toolkits on a variety of issues and sent them to each fire department in the country. Our most recent toolkit is entitled "More Ways to Keep Your Community Safe and Warm." It contains a CD with all the support materials needed for a successful heating-safety campaign including templates for media materials, talking points, fact sheets and other pieces. It also includes NFPA's character Dan Doofus starring in some heating related Public Service Announcements. The kit is also available online at\heating.

The fires that prompted the press conference are a sad reminder that we are in the midst of the busiest time of year for home fires. If we all work together to share important and simple fire safety messages, hopefully, we can prevent some of these needless tragedies.

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LORRAINE CARLI is NFPA's vice president of communications and oversees all media and public affairs activities including NFPA's key publication NFPA Journal and the NFPA website. Ms. Carli works with staff throughout NFPA on a variety of media and advocacy issues in all areas of fire and life safety.