It’s time to see what’s new in fire safety

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published October 22, 2014

 Fire safety experts say a smoke detector should be in every bedroom, outside all sleeping areas and on each level of a home.

Fire safety experts say a smoke detector should be in every bedroom, outside all sleeping areas and on each level of a home.

METRO DETROIT — With cold weather creeping in, local fire departments say now is the time to put fire safety on the front burner.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a house fire in half. But while most American homes have at least one smoke alarm, almost two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes where the smoke alarm isn’t working or where smoke alarms aren’t present.

A smoke alarm should be located in every bedroom, outside all sleeping areas and on each level of the home. Smoke alarms that include a 10-year nonreplaceable battery should be replaced if they begin to chirp.

Smoke detector batteries should be changed twice a year, St. Clair Shores Fire Marshal M. Bodnar said, and the detectors themselves should be replaced every 10 years.

“There’s a date on the back of the smoke detector. If there’s not a date on the back of it, that means it’s older than 10 years because they just started putting those on,” she said.

And according to the NFPA, the best protection comes from having smoke alarms interconnected, so that when one sounds, all alarms in the home go off, too.

“If you have a fire in the basement, but you’re sleeping, you’ll be able to hear it sooner and give yourself as much escape time as possible” by having them interconnected, said NFPA spokeswoman Lorraine Carli.

Both hardwired smoke alarms and those that are interconnected are readily available at big box stores, she said; the system can be added to as long as the same brand of alarm is purchased at a later date so they are compatible with each other.

“Part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t pay that much attention to smoke alarms, so they’re not aware of some of the newer technologies,” Carli said.

Carli said they are beginning to see more fire safety problems as the proliferation of Halloween decorations expands each year.

“Halloween has become a very popular holiday for decorations and costumes, use of candles; all those things increase the risk of a fire hazard,” she said. “Be careful that any decorations or costumes are flame-retardant, if possible, (and) don’t have long, flowing, billowing costumes or decorations near candles.”

Another item commonly used around the holidays is a power strip or extension cord. Shelby Township Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said it’s not always a good idea to buy the cheapest model because it may not be as safe.

“If you’re using a power strip, make sure they are (Underwriters Laboratories) approved and they’re not made in China,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more products that (don’t) have the proper UL stamp on them. They’re made in China, and those are the ones that are causing the biggest issue.”

And, he said, be sure to turn off decorations when you leave the home.

“If you are not home, you cannot prevent any problems,” he said.

Swinkowski said the first few weeks of winter are always the biggest time of year for fires. He recommends those with a natural burning fireplace to have their chimney cleaned and inspected in order to have brick grout and seals inspected and the creosote cleaned.

Swinkowski said that, when using a space heater, using a newer model is the best way to go because they have the most safety features, like turning off when tipped over or covered. Space heaters should be kept well away from walls and curtains, and turned off whenever there isn’t anyone in the room.

Bodnar said it’s also important to check the condition of cords on space heaters to make sure they are in good shape and, also, to never run them under rugs, carpets or furniture where they can be stepped on.

The same advice applies to candles, as well, Bodnar said, urging residents to keep open flames away from billowing curtains and other combustibles, and to extinguish open flames when you leave the room.

Every home should have a fire extinguisher near the kitchen, Swinkowski said. He said it should never be kept near the stove because if it is needed, you don’t want to have to head toward the source of the flame to grab the extinguisher. The expiration dates on extinguishers should be checked, as well, he said.

Halloween means jack-o’-lanterns and roasted pumpkin seeds, Bodnar said, which can also be a fire hazard because of their long cooking time.

“We tend to see stove fires because of unattended cooking of pumpkin seeds,” she said. “You have to cook them for a long time, and people forget about them.”

Additionally, Bodnar said, some people enjoy using deep fryers to cook their holiday turkeys, which can create fire hazards if not used properly.

“If you’re going to do that, you always want to do it outside,” Bodnar said. “Not in the garage, not in the house.”

The turkey fryer should be 15-20 feet away from any combustibles, and cooks should be wary of the hot oil.

“You don’t want any children running around, or pets,” Bodnar said.

And when the snow flies, Bodnar said, it’s important to clear a 3-foot radius around any fire hydrants.