Ask a Firefighter: Home fires are focus of national fire prevention campaign

Ask a Firefighter: Home fires are focus of national fire prevention campaign

The Westerly Sun

Fire Prevention Week starts Sunday, Oct. 7. This year firefighters across the country are focusing on a committed awareness to “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware — fire can happen anywhere.” This campaign reminds the public that fires can and do still happen at home. To remain safe, your local firefighters are encouraging residents to remember this simple phrase. remain safe.

As the sponsor of Fire Prevention Week for more than 90 years, the National Fire Protection Association works with fire departments to promote the campaign in their communities and reach out to the public. Statistics from the NFPA show that people have a higher risk of dying in a reported home fire today than they did in decades past. That reality is at the heart of this year’s Fire Prevention Week efforts.

Every year, four out of five fire deaths in the United States happen at home. Today’s home fires burn faster than ever. Typically, from the time the smoke alarm sounds, you may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely. That’s why the primary focus of Fire Prevention Week is on home fire safety, although the message applies to all types of locations and structures.

Data shows that the fire death rate per 1,000 reported home fires was 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980. NFPA believes that residents can make potentially lifesaving decisions in a fire or other emergency situation if they pay attention to their surroundings, know where the exits are, and take the smoke alarm seriously. Residents are encouraged to focus on three simple, yet essential, calls to action to reduce the risk of fire and help them prepare in the event one occurs: “Look. Listen. Learn.” 

1) Look for places fire can start. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking. To avoid a fire in the kitchen, firefighters recommend that you “keep an eye on what you fry” by staying in the kitchen when you are frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food. If you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly and stay in the home. Keep anything that can catch fire away from your stovetop.

During the winter months, heating equipment, especially space heaters, is one of the leading causes of home fires. All heaters need space, so keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from them. It is also important to have a 3 foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Be sure to purchase and use only portable space heaters listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Always have a qualified professional install heating equipment and maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected.

2) Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm. Smoke alarms detect and alert people to a fire in the early stages. Working smoke alarms can literally mean the difference between life and death. Statistics show that working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Smoke alarms should be installed in every sleeping room, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. They need to be tested at least once a month using the test button. It is important to make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.

3) Learn two ways out of each room. Home fire escape planning and drills are an essential part of fire safety. A home fire escape plan needs to be developed and practiced before a fire strikes. Your escape plan should include two exits from every room in the home and a meeting place outside, in front of the home, where everyone will meet after they leave. The final step to your escape plan should be to call 911 from a cellphone or a neighbor’s phone to report the apparent problem.

Your local firefighters want you to always look, listen, learn and be aware. They want you to understand that a fire can happen anywhere, but they also want you to know that there are simple steps you can take to keep your family safe if there is a fire in your home. For more information and resources about this year’s Fire Prevention campaign, visit

Jane Perkins is a fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at





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