Fighting Fire in the Home

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Home fire fighting is important to learn. There are usually no obstacles to the fire department coming to an alarm, but it is imperative to be prepared. It is always best to have both portable fire protection, such as fire extinguishers, and fire swatters and rakes and fixed fire protection. Fixed fire protection is defined by immovable things in the house, such as smoke detectors, heat sensors and sprinkler systems.

The big difference between smoke detectors and heat sensors is, smoke detectors detect smoke, and set off an alarm to waken the house, and heat sensors set off the sprinkler system. A good smoke detector is imperative for your home, and in many states they are required by law. Detectors should be put in each bedroom, and on walls on every level, from the top floor to the attic. Do not put them in kitchens, bathrooms, or garages, as these areas are prone for nuisance alarms, meaning they will go off when there is no danger.

Never disconnect your detectors in appropriate places because of nuisance alarms, simply open the windows and fan for a bit, and turn down whatever was burning on the stove. It is frustrating when a detector goes off because of burning pot roast, but still, you must never remove batteries, and test it regularly to ensure that the batteries in the detector are good. In purchasing a smoke detector look for those that have a “UL” or “FM” testing label. This means the detectors have been tried, and are in good working order. Clean your detector twice a year with a vacuum cleaner.

Heat sensors will sense extreme heat in the house and set off the sprinkler systems. When purchasing a good sprinkler system, ensure the sprinkler system is made in accordance with National Fire Protection Association Standards. Although there are many situation comedy shows showing people drenched in offices because the sprinkler system goes off by mistake, this actually doesn’t happen at all. The heat sensors are able to distinguish between slight warmth and smoke, and serious trouble. Heat sensors generally react to temperatures between 155 and 165 degrees, which usually indicates something is burning.

Also, the sprinkler system will only go off directly over the fire -there is no chain reaction throughout the house. Is a sprinkler system obvious in a room? Sprinklers can be easily concealed with no more than ¾” of a cap showing. Ceiling and sidewall mounted sprinklers can blend easily into a room. Are sprinklers expensive? Actually they are no more than purchasing good furniture or an expensive stereo system, and much more important for your safety. In fact, a sprinkler installation in a new home can cost as little as $1 per square foot. In many cases this would represent less than 1% of the total construction cost. Retrofitted systems are more expensive but easy to install.

Lightweight, portable fire escape ladders kept near your upper-story windows can be set up in seconds to help you escape through the window in case of fire. These ladders are available through our local hardware stores.

Make sure you purchase collapsible fire ladders, and put them near upper-story windows in each room of the house. These light-weight portable ladders can be set up in seconds to provide exit from the window.

If something in the yard is on fire, there are outdoor fire-fighting tools that are often used on farms. One is a fire rake, a six-foot wooden pole attached to a piece of scrap iron that has five mower-sickle rake-like sections. Another instrument is a fire swatter. This consists of a 12 by 15 inch piece of thick rubber belt stock attached to a bracket on a long handle. Sliding the swatter over low fires will extinguish the fire without fanning the blaze.

Fire extinguishers are vital to fighting home fires. The best extinguisher to purchase is an ABC model. It is important that your extinguisher carries the UL label. Be sure your extinguishers have a pressure dial, and that you check it monthly to make sure pressure is consistent. Make sure you have extinguishers in the kitchen and near the furnace.

Be sure you practice with your extinguisher as there is no time to read the instructions while fire-fighting. Stand 6-8 feet from the fire and pull the pin, which will unlock the operating lever. Aim low, and point the nozzle at the base of the fire, and discharge the extinguisher by squeezing the lever below. Use sweeping and circular motions towards the base of the fire. Fire extinguishers are not meant for big fires; if the fire you are fighting does not seem to be extinguishing, leave the house immediately.  

Ensure you have a water supply separate from the faucets, perhaps bottles of water in the garage, or if your yard permits, a small well. To ensure that the fire will not spread, trim the branches of trees around your roof and touching your house.

A Navy Corpsman friend of the Editor’s emphasizes the importance of fire drills “Everyone should
know several escape routes, a primary one and a couple
of alternative routes should the main exit be blocked.
Remember, smoke kills far more people than fire. Stay
low to the floor, cover faces with wet cloth if
possible. The drills are essential because the house
may be in total darkness and it will help greatly to
have had a dry run. The main thing is to get out. Let
the fire department fight the fire, and NEVER run back into
a burning house, even if Fluffy the cat can be seen
silhouetted against the window going up in flames.”

That’s about it! Stay Safe!