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Frequently Asked Questions

 Emergency Escape Plans

 

 

Q - Why are emergency escape plans important to my family ?

Q - How do I develop an emergency escape plan for my family and home ?

Q - Are practice sessions like fire drills useful ?

Q - Should I include my neighbors and local fire department in my plan ?

 

Smoke Alarms

Q - Why do I need smoke alarms in my house ?

Q - Do all smoke alarms work in the same way ?  Why do they look so different ?

Q - How do I properly test my smoke alarms ?

Q - How many do I need, and where should I put them ?

Q - With so many choices, what are you recommending ?

 

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q - Why do I need fire extinguishers in my house ?

Q - Fire is fire; are fire extinguishers all the same ?

Q - How do I choose the right kind/type for my family and house ?

Q - How many extinguishers do I need and where should I put them ?

 

Emergency Preparedness at Home

Q - Why do I need to plan ? Aren't they going tell me what to do ?

Q - For how long should I plan to take care of myself ?

Q - What do I need in my "survival kit" ?

Q - What if I am asked or told to evacuate ? What if it isn't safe to leave ?

Q - What else can I do during a severe emergency ?

 
*I know what I need -- take me to the equipment and products page.

 Emergency Escape Plans

Q - Why are emergency escape plans important to my family ?

A - "Practice makes perfect" applies here ! An escape plan can save lives in an emergency. A well thought out plan lets everyone know what their role and responsibility is when the need arises. Saving time during an emergency often means preventing injuries--or worse !

 

Q - How do I develop an emergency escape plan for my family and home ?

A - Get to know your emergency services; what number do you call ? Look at your house, and determine two or more ways out of every sleeping room. Then, map it out; draw a "footprint" diagram of your house by floor and illustrate the way out for each area. Determine a meeting place outside where everyone will gather and be counted. Be sure the meeting place is far enough away from the house to be out of danger, but not too far away for everyone to make it there quickly.

 

Be sure to assign everyone a job or responsibility. For young children and seniors, their only responsibility may be to evacuate. Older children and parents may take on other assignments that assure everyone's quick evacuation and accountability.

 

Someone must call the fire department, but getting out comes first !

 

Also included in your plan should be any special needs of a family member, such as: prescription drugs, eyeglasses, wheelchairs, spare clothing, oxygen, etc.  If your family has pets, don't risk your life looking for them. Let the professionals do it--they have the training and protective gear. Animals typically sense danger before humans; they will usually try to leave the house before anyone else. Sometimes, especially with cats, your pet may disappear for a few hours or a day until all the unfamiliar activity around your house subsides. Seasonal or climatic conditions (especially cold weather) should be taken into consideration, and the plan adjusted accordingly.

 

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Q - Are practice sessions like fire drills useful ?

A - Absolutely ! Practicing your plan is equally as important as developing the plan. (Almost) Everyone responds more appropriately in times of stress (during emergencies) if they know what to do and they have rehearsed their part--especially children and seniors. Developing the plan is great, but you don't want it to collect too much dust. Pull it out a couple of times a year and review it, use it, and evaluate it to see if it needs to be updated. You'll be glad you did !

 

Q - Should I include my neighbors and local fire department in my plan ?

A - You really should, if at all possible; especially if they can play a part in your plan. Your neighbor's house might be your meeting place, and your house could be theirs. Help them develop their own emergency escape plan. In the event of a community-wide emergency, neighbors helping neighbors will help emergency responders who may already be overwhelmed. Good neighbors are truly a blessing !

In any event, you can give the local fire department a copy of your emergency escape plan to help them help you. The more they know about your home, the better. The fire department should be interested in where your utilities are located and if you use gas to heat and cook. They would also benefit from knowing if you have any guns and ammunition, hazardous materials, or oxygen tanks in the house.

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Smoke Alarms

 

Q - Why do I need smoke alarms in my house ?

 

A - There is no doubt about it--smoke alarms save lives ! It's that simple.

 

According to the National Fire Protection Association:

"In 2002, there were 389,000 home fires in the U.S., resulting in 2,670 civilian deaths, 13,650 civilian injuries, and $5.9 billion in direct property damage."  "While 94% of American homes have at least one working smoke alarm, more than one-third of these alarms are inoperable because of dead or missing batteries. Nearly half of the nation's fire deaths occur in the other 6% of homes that do not have smoke alarms."

 

Don't be a statistic -- Don't be in the 6% of homes at higher risk of fire death.

Don't forget to maintain your smoke alarm properly.

 

When a fire starts, time is everything. Early discovery can be the difference between life and death. Most fires occur in the wee hours of the morning when most people are asleep. A well maintained and operating smoke alarm protects you and your family 24/7 -- it can buy you time to escape !

 

Go to the fire alarms page.

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Q - Do all smoke alarms work in the same way ? Why do they look so different ?

 

A - Basically, there are two types of smoke alarms according to how they operate or detect the presence of fire; there's an ionization type and a photoelectric type. Even before there is visible smoke, there are charged particles called ions, and this is what the ionization type smoke alarm detects. There must be visible smoke or other obscuration to trigger the  photoelectric type. This means that the ionization type should activate earlier than the photoelectric type. It also means that the ionization type is not so good around kitchens, and the photoelectric type can be set off by steam from a hot shower. You should use the right type for the area in which it is mounted to prevent numerous false alarms. Early detection (ionization type) is desirable near sleeping quarters, and the photoelectric type is more desirable around the cooking area.

 

Although the many smoke alarms on the market look different on the outside, there are very few manufacturers of the inside. Added features and cosmetic differences are really what you're paying for--and you do get what you pay for. The least expensive smoke alarms may need to be replaced every two or three years whereas the more expensive ones are good for five to ten years. Generally, any smoke alarm that has been in service for 3~5 years should be rigorously tested. Any over ten years old should just be replaced.

 

Smoke alarms can be utilized as single-station alarms (stand-alone), as multiple-station alarms (connected together), or with a system that reports activations to an off-site location that is attended 24 hours-a-day/ 7 days-a-week.  Single-station alarms can be battery operated or hard-wired (120 volt house current), and some are hard-wired with battery back-up. Multiple-station alarms are hard-wired in series, so that if one detector goes into alarm, they all sound. Systems generally have a small fire alarm control panel connected to the telephone wiring, a means of manual activation, and separate detectors and annunciators (sounders).

 

Go to the fire alarms page.

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Q - How do I properly test my smoke alarms ?

A - Using the push-button to test your smoke alarm only tests the alarm, not the sensing chamber which is so important. A valid test includes a smoking "punk stick" (like incense) or a (UL) listed, specially formulated, aerosol spray.

 

Go to the fire alarms page.

 

Q - How many do I need, and where should I put them ?

 

A - You should have at least one on each occupied level of your home. They should be located outside or inside of sleeping quarters. Since it is safer to sleep with your bedroom doors closed, be sure to try out your smoke alarms to be sure you can hear them in every part of the bedroom. If it isn't easily heard, even when sound asleep, put one inside of every bedroom. You should also install smoke alarms in the area of any specific hazards, such as garages and mechanical rooms or closets where heating appliances or electric motors are working.

 

Most or all manufacturers put specific installation instructions in the box with their smoke alarms. Generally speaking, you want to position the detector or alarm where it will be in the direct path of smoke or heat produced in the early stages of a fire. On flat ceilings, try to determine the established airflow pattern by looking at HVAC vents and return air grill placement. You can also conduct your own experiment with safe smoke to "see" the airflow. Recessed and peaked ceilings are easier given that heated air (and smoke) rises. Look for the highest point of the ceiling, but beware of "dead zones." Operationally, smoke alarms need to be "in the air-stream", and most houses are built with many right angles. What that means is you don't want to place a smoke alarm too close to a corner of a room or where the ceiling meets the wall or right in the peak of a Cathedral ceiling.

 

With a flat ceiling, smoke alarms should be spaced no more than 30 feet apart and not within 4 inches of a wall/ceiling corner (crown). With a pitched ceiling, stay 2 to 3 feet down-slope from the peak.

 

Go to the fire alarms page.

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Q - With so many choices, what are you recommending ?

 

A - There are 3 basic recommendations that represent 3 levels of protection. You must choose the level you will be comfortable with:

                1. Invest in a low-cost system that will report all alarms to a professional monitor who will instantly relay your alarm to the fire department OR;

                2. *Install multiple-station smoke alarms and detectors, so that if one goes into alarm, they all sound OR;

                    (*This may require a professional electrician to install properly.)

                3. Install single-station smoke alarms and detectors that are hard-wired with battery back-up.

 

Go to the fire alarms page.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q - Why do I need fire extinguishers in my house ?

A - Portable fire extinguishers can save your life and/or reduce property damage. That's the standard answer, but it's none the less true. They can provide you a tremendous amount of fire extinguishing capability in a small package, whether you need it for emergency escape or to prevent a small fire from becoming a much bigger and more destructive fire. They are wonderfully self-contained, and once you learn how to use them, they are easily managed. 

Fire extinguishers are a very small investment considering the potential return on that investment. Having them when you need them is both comforting and empowering--Not having them when you need them can leave you feeling helpless !

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Q - Fire is fire; are fire extinguishers all the same ?

A - Not at all. Portable fire extinguishers are manufactured to be either single-purpose (i.e., water can) or multi-purpose (i.e., dry chemical). It is very important that the extinguishing agent in the portable extinguisher is "compatible" with the fuel that is burning. You should try to anticipate the potential fire/fuel that you may have and be sure to have and use the proper type of extinguisher.

Go to the Fire Extinguisher page to learn more.

Q - How do I choose the right kind/type for my family and house ?

A - To determine what types of fires that may occur at your house, look around at the various fuel types. There are ordinary combustibles (wood, paper, plastics, rubber, and cloth) in every house--this type of fuel will produces "Class A" type fires. Flammable and combustible liquids and gases produce "Class B" type fires. Electrical current is found in almost every home, and this produces "Class C" type fires. The most favorite part of most homes is the kitchen, and cooking mediums like vegetable oils and animal fats produce "Class K" type fires.

You only have to decide if you want separate extinguishers for the different types of fires or a "multi-purpose" type extinguisher that does double-duty. You can choose from Class A (water), Class B:C (dry powder), Class C (distilled water spray), Class A:B:C (dry chemical), or Class K (wet chemical) fire extinguishers.  Generally, the multi-purpose type is the most cost-effective for the area and hazards covered.

Go to the Fire Extinguisher page to learn more.

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Q - How many extinguishers do I need and where should I put them ?

 

A - There are generally two considerations: general coverage of an area and hazard-specific coverage. Each occupied level of your home should have an appropriate type of portable fire extinguisher, and additional extinguishers should be added for each hazard, such as in the kitchen, garage, and workshop. Other areas would also benefit from having additional extinguishers, such as barns, vehicle or boat storage sheds, or other detached buildings.

 

Fire extinguishers should be readily accessible and visible at all times. Never cover them up or use them for a coat rack. They should be firmly mounted in the exit path and/or near the door to the outside. In the event of a fire, you want to be able to leave the area immediately, but find the extinguisher on your way out or at the door. That way, you can use it to protect yourself or make a decision whether or not to fight the fire.

 

Go to the Fire Extinguisher page to learn more.  

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Emergency Preparedness at Home

 

Q - Why do I need to plan ?

 

A - In a large-scale emergency that encompasses a community, local first-responders may easily be over-extended in their capabilities to serve and protect. They know how to get more help calling on neighboring jurisdictions or state government, but it may take some time. Except for the most life-threatening situations, this is the time that citizens may have to take care of themselves.  This will definitely take some time and planning, before the emergency, to accomplish.

 

Q - For how long should I plan to take care of myself ?

 

A - Calling in more help should be prearranged by local emergency agencies. They should have plans in place to get whatever assistance is needed from local, state, and federal resources. However, it may be logistically impossible to get it immediately. Local assistance may take hours to obtain. State assistance may take 12 to 24 hours, or more. Federal assistance may take 24 to 72 hours to mobilize and arrive. Faced with this reality, in many cases, citizens will have to fend for themselves for hours or days.

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Q - What do I need in my "survival kit" ?

 

A - Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Assemble a "Disaster Supplies Kit" with items you may need in an evacuation, especially any �special needs� items. Store these supplies in a sturdy, easily carried or wheeled container.

You should include at least:

*    A 3-day supply of water (1 gallon per person per day), and food that won�t spoil with plates, cups, and utensils.

*    One change of clothing and shoes per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.

*    A first aid kit that includes family member�s prescription medications.

*    Emergency tools, such as an axe, pry bar, and shovel, and also, a battery powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.

*    Extra vehicle keys and a credit card, cash, or travelers checks.

*    Toilet paper, personal hygiene, and sanitation supplies.

*    Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.

*    Spare eyeglasses

 

You should include anything essential to your short-term survival that you can safely store for months at-a-time,  and that you can take with you if you must  evacuate. Also include copies of insurance papers/policies, bank account statements, vehicle titles or registrations, medical records, birth certificates, and similar vital records.

 

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Q - What if I am asked or told to evacuate ? What if it isn't safe to leave ?

A - If local authorities ask you to leave your home, they have a good reason to make this request, and you should heed the advice immediately. Listen to your radio or television and follow the instructions of local emergency officials and keep these simple tips in mind:

Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes so you can be protected as much as possible.

Take your disaster supplies kit.

Take your pets with you; do not leave them behind. Because pets are not permitted in public shelters, follow your plan to go to a relative's or friend's home, or find a "pet-friendly" hotel.

Lock your home.

Use travel routes specified by local authorities�don't use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous.

Stay away from downed power lines.

 

If it isn't safe to leave ...

If you are advised by local officials to "shelter in place," what they mean is for you to remain inside your home or office and protect yourself. Close and lock all windows and exterior doors. Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems. Close the fireplace damper. Get your disaster supplies kit, and make sure the radio is working. Go to an interior room without windows that's above ground level. In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed. Using duct tape, seal all cracks around the door and any vents into the room. Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. 

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Q - What else can I do during a severe emergency ?

 

A - Working with your neighbors can save lives and property. Help them develop their individual plans. Together, plan how the neighborhood could work together, after a disaster, until help arrives. Making a plan and assembling a Disaster Supplies Kit will undoubtedly allow you to fare better than many others in your area. Doing what you can to help others, before and after a disaster, will help emergency responders, your community, and yourself.

 

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CONTACT INFORMATION:
DAVID CHAPLIN, CFPS, DABCHS-CHS IV
INTEGRATED FIRE and LIFE SAFETY SOLUTIONS, LLC
P O Box 828, Salem, VA 24153
Phone/Fax:  540-375-9114     Toll free: 800-815-4749
Products or Web Site: TERMS OF USE    and    PRIVACY POLICY

 

We are proud members of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and we participate in and support the

Certified Fire Protection Specialist program.

 
 

We are also proud members of the American College of Forensic Examiners International, and we participate in and support the Certified in Homeland Security program.

 

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