Do a one hour check-up: It could save your life!

By Gary Ryman

Do you have the oil changed in your car, tires rotated, and brakes checked?  Sure, you say.  Cars are expensive and I want it reliable and safe.  Makes sense.  Cars are the second most expensive item most of us will ever buy.  Then what about ensuring the safety of our most expensive investment?

Houses need the same regular safety inspections—check-ups—especially for the most dangerous disease they’re exposed to, fire.  Investing an hour or so once a year can pay inestimable dividends, not only in keeping the property safe, but also the loved ones who live and sleep there.

Start with your heating system.  Pick up the phone and make an appointment for a professional to inspect and service your furnace.  Have a fireplace?  Get that chimney cleaned and make sure your wood supply is dry and well seasoned.  Have a safe place designated to dispose of ashes.

Check your smoke detectors.  Have the batteries been changed?  Are the detectors less than ten years old?  Smoke detectors were never intended to last forever, and now new models designed for a ten-year life with sealed batteries which never need to be (and can’t be) changed are readily available.  “Just like any electrical appliance, the components of smoke alarms wear out over time.  When a smoke alarm reaches ten years of use, the potential of failing to detect a fire increases substantially,” says the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

Do you have detectors everywhere needed?  The answer can differ depending upon the home and local or state codes.  National standards recommend that for new homes, a smoke alarm is provided in each bedroom, and at least one outside the bedroom area, but near enough to be heard in the bedrooms with the doors closed.  In addition, there should be at least one detector on each floor level of a home, including basements.  This is so regardless of where a fire starts; inside or outside a bedroom, the occupants receive prompt warning.  For existing homes, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends a detector outside the bedrooms and at least one on each level of the structure.  Both they and the National Association of Fire Marshals agree that more is better, and providing the numbers called for in new construction is best.

Check your dryer.  Why, you ask?  I clean the lint trap every time I use it.  I’m very careful.

I’m sure you are, but when is the last time you checked the dryer hose itself?  First, make sure it’s metallic.  The plastic ones are inexpensive but burn like solid gasoline.  Second, disconnect the hose and check the interior.  Have a vacuum ready.  You’ll probably be surprised at the amount of lint which gets by the screen and accumulates in the hose.  A good annual cleaning helps prevent dryer fires.

Do you have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or garage?  As importantly, do you know how to use it if you need to?  When the stove is on fire is not the time to be reading the instructions.  Remembering one word will help you: PASS, pull, aim, squeeze, sweep.  Pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, squeeze the handle, and sweep back and forth, applying the agent to the fire.  An important tip: keep a pot lid, pizza tray, or similar item out when you fry.  Covering the pot can smother the fire.

Annual inspection time is also a good time to review your home evacuation plan.  Don’t have one?  They’re not complicated to develop.  Have a safe meeting place outside the home and teach children never to go back inside.  Keep bedroom doors closed.  If a hallway fire occurs, a closed door may hinder the smoke from overpowering family members, giving firefighters extra time for rescue.  Teach toddlers not to hide from firefighters.  Their protective gear can be scary in times of crisis.  Teach children that firefighters are there to help in an emergency.  Take children for a tour at your local fire station so that they can see a firefighter in full gear.  Teach your children how to crawl under the smoke to reduce smoke inhalation.  Also, teach your children how to touch closed doors to see if they are hot before opening.  If so, use an alternate escape route.

Check your carbon monoxide detector.  Over a ten-year period, the Center for Disease Control and prevention reported over five thousand deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.  You can’t see it, smell it, or taste it.  Without a detector, you can be one of the statistics.  Visit your local hardware store and make sure that won’t happen.

Is your house address visible from the roadway?  This is a big help for emergency responders who may be trying to find you in the dark.

You wouldn’t think twice about spending an hour cleaning the gutters or washing the windows on the house.  Take the same amount of time to check it for fire safety.  It can be as important as that annual physical from your doctor.

Gary Ryman is the author of the novels Mayday! Firefighter Down & Fire in His Bones as well as the memoir, Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family.

All three books are available in paperback and ebook versions from Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.fire-men-book.com.