Fire and Life Safety

Fire Facts

Smoke Detector Safety

Escape Plans

Carbon Monoxide Safety

Fire Extinguisher Safety

Fire Facts

Knowing the facts is the key to fire safety

Fire deaths
  • In the United States, someone is fatally injured in a home fire roughly every 170 minutes.
  • In Canada, someone is fatally injured in a home fire roughly every 31 hours.
  • Smoking materials such as cigarettes, cigars and pipes are the leading cause of fire deaths in the United States. The majority of residential fires associated with smoking materials started because of careless or improper disposal.

Smoke alarms
  • Fifteen of every 16 homes (94%) in the United States have at least one smoke alarm.
  • Having smoke alarms in your home reduces your chance of dying in a fire nearly in half.
  • One-half of home fire deaths occur in the 6 % of homes with no smoke alarms.
  • In three of every 10 reported fires in homes equipped with smoke alarms, the devices did not work, most often because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries.
  • Only eight percent of those surveyed whose smoke alarms had sounded in the past year thought it was a fire that caused the alarm to go off, and got out of their homes as a result.

Home fire sprinklers
  • Properly installed and maintained, automatic fire sprinkler systems help save lives.
  • Automatic fire sprinklers and smoke alarms together cut your risk of dying in a home fire 82% relative to having neither - a savings of thousands of lives a year.

Home escape planning
  • According to an NFPA survey, 26 percent of Americans said they had never thought about practicing a home fire escape plan. Three percent said they did not believe that practice was necessary.
  • During the months of December, January and February, heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires. Portable or fixed space heaters caused Two-thirds of home heating fire deaths.

  • Over the last decade, candle fires have almost tripled. In 1999 alone, an estimated 15,040 home fires started by candles were reported to fire departments. These fires resulted in 102 deaths, 1,473 injuries and an estimated property loss of $278 million.
  • Forty percent of U.S. home candle fires begin in the bedroom.

  • More fires start in the kitchen than in any other place in the home.
  • Cooking fires are the #1 cause of home fires and home fire injuries.
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires.

  • Electrical fires and shocks kill hundreds of people and injure thousands each year.
  • In 1999, electrical distribution equipment was the fourth leading cause of home structure fires, but ranked first in cause of direct property damage.

Firefighting Equipment Facts

  • On February 10, 1863, the fire extinguisher was patented by Alanson Crane.
  • On Jan. 1, 1853, the first practical fire engine was tested in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • On April 21, 1878, the nation's first firehouse pole was installed in New York City.
  • On May 30, 1821, the first rubber-lined cotton web fire hose was patented by J. Boyd of Boston.
  • On May 7, 1878, the fire escape ladder was patented by Joseph Winters.
  • On November 11, 1890, Daniel McCree of Chicago invented a portable fire escape ladder 

Smoke Detector Safety

Because fire can grow and spread so quickly, having working smoke alarms in your home can mean the difference between life and death. But these life-saving devices are only effective when they're working properly. Smoke alarms with batteries that are dead, disconnected, or missing can't alert you to the dangers of smoke and fire. Follow these tips to ensure that your smoke alarms are installed correctly and tested regularly.

Once the alarm sounds, you may have as few as two minutes to escape. By learning how to effectively use the smoke alarm's early warning to get out safely, you'll reduce your risk of dying in a home fire.

The right way to install smoke alarms:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, making sure that there is an alarm outside every separate sleeping area. New homes are required to have a smoke alarm in every sleeping room and all smoke alarms must be interconnected.
  • Hard-wired smoke alarms operate on your household electrical current. They can be interconnected so that every alarm sounds regardless of the fire's location. This is an advantage in early warning, because it gives occupants extra time to escape if they are in one part of the home and a fire breaks out in another part. Alarms that are hard-wired should have battery backups in case of a power outage, and should be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • If you sleep with bedroom doors closed, have a qualified electrician install interconnected smoke alarms in each room so that when one alarm sounds, they all sound.
  • If you, or someone in your home is deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing an alarm that combines flashing lights, vibration and/or sound.
  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Ceiling mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.
  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm near the ceiling's highest point.
  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
  • Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.
  • A life-saving test: check your smoke alarms regularly
  • Test your smoke alarms once a month, following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm once a year, or as soon as the alarm "chirps" warning that the battery is low. Hint: schedule battery replacements for the same day you change your clocks from daylight savings time to standard time in the fall.
  • Never "borrow" a battery from a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms can't warn you of fire if their batteries are missing or have been disconnected.
  • Don't disable smoke alarms even temporarily. If your smoke alarm is sounding "nuisance alarms," try relocating it farther from kitchens or bathrooms, where cooking fumes and steam can cause the alarm to sound.
  • Regularly vacuuming or dusting your smoke alarms, following the manufacturer's instructions, can keep them working properly.
  • Smoke alarms don't last forever. Replace yours once every 10 years. If you can't remember how old the alarm is, then it's probably time for a new one.
  • Consider installing smoke alarms with "long-life" (10-year) batteries.
  • Plan regular fire drills to ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do when the smoke alarm sounds. Hold a drill at night to make sure that sleeping family members awaken at the sound of the alarm. Some studies have shown that some children may not awaken to the sound of the smoke alarm. Know what your child will do before a fire occurs.
  • If you are building a new home or remodeling your existing home, consider installing an automatic home fire sprinkler system. Sprinklers and smoke alarms together cut your risk of dying in a home fire 82 percent relative to having neither - a savings of thousands of lives a year.
  • For more information, read NFPA's smoke alarm fact sheet.

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Escape Plans
  • Draw a floor plan, or a map of your home. Show all doors and windows.
  • Mark two ways out of each room.
  • Mark all of the smoke alarms with SA. Smoke alarms should be on every level of your home. Make sure there is an alarm in or near every sleeping area. And remember to check the batteries each month and replace them when needed.
  • Pick a family meeting place outside where everyone can meet.
  • Remember, practice your plan at least twice a year.

Carbon Monoxide Safety

    1. What is carbon monoxide (CO) and how is it produced in the home?

      Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. Appliances fueled with natural gas, liquefied petroleum (LP gas), oil, kerosene, coal, or wood may produce CO. Burning charcoal produces CO. Running cars produce CO.

    2. How many people are unintentionally poisoned by CO?

      Every year, over 200 people in the United States die from CO produced by fuel-burning appliances (furnaces, ranges, water heaters, room heaters). Others die from CO produced while burning charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent. Still others die from CO produced by cars left running in attached garages. Several thousand people go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment for CO poisoning.

    3. What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

      The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:
      • Headache
      • Fatigue
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea
      • Dizziness

Many people with CO poisoning mistake their symptoms for the flu or are misdiagnosed by physicians, which sometimes results in tragic deaths.

  1. What should you do to prevent CO poisoning?
    • Make sure appliances are installed according to manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by professionals. Have the heating system (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
    • Install a CO detector/alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL standard 2034 or the requirements of the IAS 6-96 standard. A carbon monoxide detector/alarm can provide added protection, but is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO detector/alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the detector cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
    • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
    • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
    • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
    • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skills, and tools. Always refer to the owner's manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning appliances.
    • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers for heating your home.
    • Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room with closed doors or windows or in any room where people are sleeping.
    • Do not use gasoline-powered tools and engines indoors. If use is unavoidable, ensure that adequate ventilation is available and whenever possible place engine unit to exhaust outdoors.

  2. What CO level is dangerous to your health?

    The health effects of CO depend on the level of CO and length of exposure, as well as each individual's health condition. The concentration of CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). Health effects from exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm are uncertain, but most people will not experience any symptoms. Some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable (headache, fatigue, nausea). As CO levels increase above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

  3. What should you do if you are experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning?

    If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors for more ventilation, turn off any combustion appliances, and leave the house. Call your fire department and report your symptoms. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning when you are operating fuel-burning appliances. Before turning your fuel-burning appliances back on, make sure a qualified serviceperson checks them for malfunction.

  4. What has changed in CO detectors/alarms recently?

    CO detectors/alarms always have been and still are designed to alarm before potentially life-threatening levels of CO are reached. The UL standard 2034 (1998 revision) has stricter requirements that the detector/alarm must meet before it can sound. As a result, the possibility of nuisance alarms is decreased.

  5. How should I install a CO Alarm?

    CO alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. CPSC recommends that one CO alarm be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home. CO alarms may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall because CO from any source will be well mixed with the air in the house. Make sure furniture or draperies cannot cover up the alarm.

  6. What should you do when the CO detector/alarm sounds?

    Never ignore an alarming CO detector/alarm. If the detector/alarm sounds: Operate the reset button. Call your emergency services (fire department or 911). Immediately move to fresh air -- outdoors or by an open door/window.

  7. How should a consumer test a CO detector/alarm to make sure it is working?

    Consumers should follow the manufacturer's instructions. Using a test button, some detectors/alarms test whether the circuitry as well as the sensor, which senses CO, is working, while the test button on other detectors only tests whether the circuitry is working. For those units, which test the circuitry only, some manufacturers sell separate test kits to help the consumer test the CO sensor inside the alarm.

  8. What is the role of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in preventing CO poisoning?

    CPSC worked closely with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to help develop the safety standard (UL 2034) for CO detectors/alarms. CPSC helps promote carbon monoxide safety awareness to raise awareness of CO hazards and the need for regular maintenance of fuel-burning appliances. CPSC recommends that every home have a CO detector/alarm that meets the requirements of the most recent UL standard 2034 or the IAS 6-96 standard in the hallway near every separate sleeping area. CPSC also works with industry to develop voluntary and mandatory standards for fuel-burning appliances.

  9. Do some cities require that CO detectors/alarms be installed?

    On September 15, 1993, Chicago, Illinois became one of the first cities in the nation to adopt an ordinance requiring, effective October 1, 1994, the installation of CO detectors/alarms in all new single-family homes and in existing single-family residences that have new oil or gas furnaces. Several other cities also require CO detectors/alarms in apartment buildings and single-family dwellings.

  10. Should CO detectors/alarms be used in motor homes and other recreational vehicles?

    CO detectors/alarms are available for boats and recreational vehicles and should be used. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association requires CO detectors/alarms in motor homes and in towable recreational vehicles that have a generator or are prepped for a generator.

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Fire Extinguisher Safety

A portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives; but portable extinguishers have limitations. Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the number one priority for residents is to get out safely.

Safety Tips:

  • Use a portable fire extinguisher when the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing; everyone has exited the building; the fire department has been called or is being called; and the room is not filled with smoke.
  • To operate a fire extinguisher, remember the word PASS: Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism. Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly. Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.
  • For the home, select a multi-purpose extinguisher (can be used on all types of home fires) that is large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle.
  • Choose a fire extinguisher that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory.
  • Read the instructions that come with the fire extinguisher and become familiar with its parts and operation before a fire breaks out. Local fire departments or fire equipment distributors often offer hands-on fire extinguisher trainings.
  • Install fire extinguishers close to an exit and keep your back to a clear exit when you use the device so you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
  • Know when to go. Fire extinguishers are one element of a fire response plan, but the primary element is safe escape. Every household should have a home fire escape plan and working smoke alarms.