Most electrically related fires are caused by misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, overloaded circuits and extension cords. Here are some do's and don'ts for electrical fire safety:
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring. Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
- When buying electrical appliances look for products which meet the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) standard for safety.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet.
- Space heaters, coffee makers, and all other appliances with exposed heating elements should never be left unattended while in operation. They should be unplugged after each use and stored only after they are cool enough to touch
- Never leave stoves unattended while cooking
- Dryers and washing machines were involved in 1 in 22 home fires between 2006-2010 (nfpa.org) Be sure to clean out lint filters after each and every load. Also make sure that the vents are installed and cleaned properly. Do not leave the dryer running unattended.
- Don't overload extension cords. Do not plug multiple extension cords into one another (daisy-chaining).
- Know the capacity of the extension cord. Make sure the amperage of the appliances being plugged in, do not exceed the rating. Best to use a circuit breaker protected multiple outlet strip.
- Extension cords are to be used only when a flexible, temporary connection is necessary; never for fixed wiring. Never tack, staple, fasten or run through woodwork, ceilings or walls; never tie, pass through doorways, drape over pipes or run under rugs. Where there is a permanent need for an electrical outlet, one should be installed.
- Never overload wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then have replaced, outlets and switches that are hot to the touch.
- Outlets should never be overloaded with multiple plugs.
- Only use multi-outlet surge protectors with a self-contained circuit breaker.
- Never cover light bulbs with paper or clothing.
- Use caution when lighting candles or incense. These items should never be left unattended.
- When cooking, never leave the kitchen unattended. This is the number one cause of cooking fires.
- Wear short or close-fitting sleeves. Loose clothing can catch fire.
- Clean cooking surfaces to prevent food and grease build-up.
- Keep curtains, towels and pot holders away from hot surfaces.
- Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources.
- Turn pan handles inward to prevent accidental spilling.
- Slide a pan lid over flames to smother a grease or oil fire, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place until the pan cools. Never carry the pan to the sink or outside; you may spread the fire that way.
- Make sure a dry chemical fire extinguisher is located near the cooking area. Go to the fire extinguisher page for operation. Never use water or flour on grease fires.
- Close the oven door and shut off the heat to smother an oven or broiler fire.
Make sure there are smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in at least every room used for sleeping; regularly test your detectors.
Smoke alarms (also often known as smoke detectors) are one of the best early-warning devices of a fire. They are designed to sense low levels of smoke and sound an alarm.
Some smoke alarms are what are known as “single station,” or standalone devices. If they go into alarm only the one detector is activated, alerting people right around it. Others may be connected together, such as in a two-story house, and they will all sound an alarm at the same time.
No matter what type of setup you may have, no fire detector can do its job if it is disabled.
- ALWAYS leave the batteries in the detector
- ALWAYS leave the detector uncovered so it can sense the smoke
- ALWAYS leave the detector on the wall or ceiling where it can do its job.
Many fire fatalities have occurred when the detector has been disabled. Don’t become one of them!
Fight or flight... the most important decision to make is whether to fight the fire or escape. This is a critically important decision, and may literally mean the difference between life and death.
There are a series of specific steps that you should always follow:
- Make sure that everyone is out of danger
- Notify the fire department
- Size up the fire--is it small enough to be handled by a fire extinguisher?
- Back away from the fire if it gets out of control... make sure the fire is not between you and your escape route!
- Is your extinguisher the right extinguisher for the job? Is it matched to the type of fire?
- Is the fire extinguisher fully charged? You can tell by looking at the pressure gauge
- Do you know how to use the extinguisher?
Fighting the fire:
- P: pull the pin that unlocks the operating handle
- A: aim the extinguisher low at the base of the fire
- S: squeeze the lever on the extinguisher to discharge the agent
- S: sweep the nozzle or extinguisher hose from side to side. Move slowly and carefully toward the fire, continuing to sweep the extinguisher back and forth at the base of the flames
Once it is out:
- Just because you have extinguished the fire, don't turn your back on it! Back way from the fire, watching it to make sure that it does not reignite. If the fire was in a pan of grease, for example, the grease may be hot enough to reignite
- Fire extinguishers should never be misused or abused. If an extinguisher is not ready to fight the fire because it has been discharged, then it has simply become a wall ornament--not a life saving tool
- One of the most important things about a fire extinguisher is to make sure there is enough pressure in it to operate. This is often indicated by a small gauge near the handle. Usually, an arrow will either point to a green area (enough pressure) or a red area (not enough pressure in the extinguisher)
- Everyone is responsibly for making sure the extinguishers are in working order. Each time you pass one by you can glance at the pressure gauge to make sure that it is ready to fight a fire. You should check with your local ordinances as to how often fire extinguishers must be checked by a certified technician. At a minimum, they should be checked once a year
Adapted from "Campus Safety Campaign: How do fire extinguishers work?"