Monday, July 18, 2016


Fire safety tips from the experts

If a fire starts in your home, you may have only two minutes to escape to safety, according to the American Red Cross. That’s a startling message, and firefighters everywhere want people to be attentive and mindful of it.

At the annual Safety Camp held recently at Backus Hospital, I had the opportunity to talk to Assistant Chief William Hadam and longtime volunteer firefighter David Plante, of the Taftville Fire Department. I asked them to give me a few home fire safety tips that readily come to mind — things they want to stress to people.

Asst. Chief Hadam immediately said that most house fires are preventable:

In order of frequency, the most common causes of house fires are:

• cooking fires
• improperly discarded smoking materials
• portable heaters / kerosene heaters
• candles (he explained unattended candles can burn down, but often the family cat or dog knocks over the candle and causes a fire)
• overloading electrical outlets
• improper maintenance of furnaces (filters not changed, etc.)

He also explained there are accidental fires caused by electrical shorts and furnace malfunction, but are less common.

They both stressed the importance of maintaining smoke detectors in the home. They agree the number one way to save lives is to have active, working smoke detectors. “A smoke detector without a battery doesn’t do you any good.” Smoke alarms should be installed just outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. “Change the batteries when you change the clocks twice a year,” is their motto.

Also, it’s crucial for house numbers to be clearly visible and identifiable in an emergency, especially in rural areas. I can attest to this. When I was a home care nurse, I often had trouble identifying the address to visit because house numbers were nowhere to be found. I would think that if my home visit was an emergency, precious time would be lost. Assistance Chief Hadam explained often there are four or five numbered mailboxes in a row, or a common driveway, but no corresponding numbers on the actual homes.

I asked about people having home fire extinguishers. For small kitchen cooking fires, they advise calling 911 promptly and then trying to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. Even if you are successful, they still want to be notified because they will want to come and check to make sure there are no unseen smoldering fire safety issues remaining. If a fire is too big to handle easily, “Get out and wait for the fire department,” they caution. “Get out and stay out. Never go back inside for people, pets or things.”

If you encounter a fire and evacuate, it’s important to close the door behind you to deprive the fire of oxygen and slow the spread of smoke and fire until the fire department arrives.

And last but not least, Mr. Hadam told me about the American Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign. I called to find out more information. The Red Cross will install free smoke alarms within your home and give guidance in the development of a Family Disaster Plan. To schedule your home visit, register at or call 1-877-287-3327 and choose option 1.

We are indeed fortunate to have such wonderful resources, ready to help us protect our families against fire.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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