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Education ups fire survival chances
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In the event of a fire, remember time is the biggest enemy and every second counts.

Escape first, then call for help. Develop a home fire escape plan and designate a meeting place outside. Make sure everyone in the family knows two ways to escape from every room.

Practice feeling the way out with eyes closed. Never stand up in a fire, always crawl low under the smoke and try to keep your mouth covered.

Never return to a burning building for any reason; it may cost you your life.

Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.

More than 4,000 Americans die each year in fires and about 25,000 are injured. An overwhelming number of fires occur in the home. There are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire. It's not a question of luck. It's a matter of planning ahead.

During a typical year, home electrical problems account for 67,800 fires, 485 deaths, and $868 million in property losses. Home electrical wiring causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances.

Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring and overloaded circuits and extension cords.

Electrical wiring

- Most electrical fires result from problems with "fixed wiring" such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with cords and plugs, such as extension and appliance cords, also cause many home electrical fires.

- In urban areas, faulty wiring accounts for 33 percent of residential electrical fires.

- Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.

Home appliances

- The home appliances most often involved in electrical fires are electric stoves and ovens, dryers, central heating units, televisions, radios and record players. When using appliances follow the manufacturer's safety precautions. Overheating, unusual smells, shorts and sparks are all warning signs that appliances need to be shut off, then replaced or repaired. Unplug appliances when not in use. Use safety caps to cover all unused outlets, especially if there are small children in the home.

Safety precautions

- Routinely check electrical appliances and wiring.

- Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.

- Use electrical extension cords wisely and don't overload them.

- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.

- When buying electrical appliances look for products which meet the Underwriter's Laboratory standard for safety.

- Don't allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons and hair dryers.

- Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least three feet from all heaters.

- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.

- Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker. Use safety closures to "child-proof" electrical outlets.

- Check electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.

Alternate heaters

- Keep fire in the fireplace. Use fire screens and have the chimney cleaned annually. The creosote buildup can ignite a chimney fire that could easily spread.

- Kerosene heaters should be used only where approved by authorities. Never use gasoline or camp-stove fuel. Refuel outside and only after the heater has cooled.

Caring for children

Children under the age of five are naturally curious about fire. Many play with matches and lighters. Tragically, children set more than 20,000 house fires every year. Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching your children that fire is a tool, not a toy.

Caring for older people

Every year more than 1,200 senior citizens die in fires. Many of these fire deaths could have been prevented. Seniors are especially vulnerable because many live alone and can't respond quickly.

Bedroom fires

Bedrooms are a common area of fire origin. Nearly 1,000 lives are lost to fires that start in bedrooms. Many of these fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, such as overloading extension cords or using portable space heaters too close to combustibles. Children playing with matches cause other bedroom fires, as does careless smoking among adults and arson.

Bedrooms are the most common place in the home where electrical fires start. Electrical fires are a special concern during winter months, which call for more indoor activities and increases in lighting, heating, and appliance use.

- Do not trap electric cords against walls where heat can build up.

- Take extra care when using portable heaters. Keep bedding, clothes, curtains and other combustible items at least three feet away from space heaters.

- Only use lab-approved electric blankets and warmers. Check to make sure the cords are not frayed.

- Never smoke in bed.

- Replace mattresses made before the 1973 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard. Mattresses made since then are required by law to be safer.

Plan the escape

Practice an escape plan from every room in the house. Caution everyone to stay low to the floor when escaping from fire and never to open doors that are hot. Select a location where everyone can meet after escaping the house. Get out then call for help.

In the event of a fire, remember that time is the biggest enemy and every second counts. In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for a house to fill with thick black smoke and become engulfed in flames.

- Practice escape plans every month. The best plans have two ways to get out of each room. If the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke, you will need a second way out. A secondary route might be a window onto an adjacent roof or using an Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approved collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows. Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and that security bars can be properly opened. Also, practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.

- Security bars may help to keep your family safe from intruders, but they can also trap you in a deadly fire. Windows and doors with security bars must have quick release devices to allow them to be opened immediately in an emergency. Make sure everyone in the family understands and practices how to properly operate and open locked or barred doors and windows.

- When a fire occurs, do not waste any time saving property. Take the safest exit route, but if you must escape through smoke, remember to crawl low, under the smoke and keep your mouth covered. The smoke contains toxic gases, which can disorient you or, at worst, overcome you.

- When you come to a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame to make sure that fire is not on the other side. If it feels hot, use your secondary escape route. Even if the door feels cool, open it carefully. Brace your shoulder against the door and open it slowly. If heat and smoke come in, slam the door and make sure it is securely closed, then use your alternate escape route.

- Designate a meeting location away from the home, but not necessarily across the street. For example, meet under a specific tree or at the end of the driveway or front sidewalk to make sure everyone has gotten out safely and no one will be hurt looking for someone who is already safe. Designate one person to go to a neighbor's home to phone the fire department.

- Remember to escape first, then notify the fire department by calling 911 or proper local emergency number. Never go back into a burning building for any reason. Teach children not to hide from firefighters. If someone is missing, tell the firefighters. They are equipped to perform rescues safely.

For more information, visit www.usfa.fema.gov.
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