In one of my posts last week, I mentioned a fatal fire that started because an extension cord had shorted out and set fire to clothes that were laying on top of it. This is a very preventable type of fire--but it can be prevented only when people living in a house or apartment practice good fire safety. The best way to do this: Take two minutes every day to check around your house or apartment for situations that could start a fire, or cause a fire to spread, or block the escape path to a door or window.
Besides this, there is another very simple precaution that people can take. And even though this precaution cannot prevent a fire, it can do something even more important: it can prevent a fire from trapping victims and inflicting terrible third-degree burns and poisonous smoke inhalation. What is that precaution? Installing a minimum of one smoke detector on the ceiling of each level of the house, preferably in the hallway near the bedrooms. It is advisable to put a smoke detector in each bedroom as well.
Sure enough, the blaze that was started by the shorted-out extension cord, which killed a mother and her three children who were asleep at the time, took place in a home that did not have a smoke alarm. So even though the fire began in the living room, in an electrical outlet that was also being used to power a stereo system, a computer, and other appliances, the lack of a smoke detector meant there was too little time to escape once family members woke up and realized there was a fire. The fire had engulfed much of the first floor and created dark, choking smoke that rose up and filled the rooms of the second floor before any of the sleeping victims had a chance to escape. And believe it or not, many victims who die of smoke inhalation are not even awakened by the smell of smoke. Smoke can poison your lungs and cause unconsciousness so quickly that there is no time to wake up!
So if you own your home, it takes less than $20 to buy a battery-operated smoke detector and about ten minutes to install one. And if you rent your house or apartment, make sure to ask the landlord to install smoke alarms in your apartment. One last thing to remember: It is the tenant's responsibility to check the battery in each smoke detector every few months to make sure it is working, and to REPLACE the battery once a year. If you don't do this, the smoke detector might be of no use in keeping your family safe!
To read reviews on many types of smoke detectors, click here. Lastly, anyone who cannot afford a smoke alarm can contact their local fire department to see if they will install one for free. In Philadelphia, for instance, residents can sign up to get a free smoke detector by visiting www.FreedomFromFire.com.