It’s that time of year when many of use begin to think about what we might want to accomplish in the New Year. Considering that more than 75 percent of all fire deaths in the United States happen in homes, your local firefighters urge everyone to include some safety resolutions to keep 2019 a healthy and fire-safe year.

Make sure your home is protected by working smoke alarms. The National Fire Protection Association recently reported that no smoke alarms were present in 38 percent of home fire deaths, and that 21 percent of those home fire deaths were blamed on smoke alarms that did not sound. In reported home fires in which smoke alarms were present but did not operate, 46 percent of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries. Nuisance alarms were the leading reason for disconnected smoke alarms. Resolve to test your smoke alarms once a month, and replace your smoke alarms when they’re 10 years old. 

Make safety your first ingredient when cooking. Cooking is the main cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Each year fire departments respond to an average of 172,100 home structure fires started by cooking, or an average of 471 home cooking fires per day. These fires cause an average of 530 civilian deaths and 5,270 reported civilian fire injuries. Cooking fires start when the heat gets too high. If you see any smoke or grease start to boil, turn off the burner. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires and casualties, and clothing ignitions led to 15 percent of home cooking fire deaths. Resolve to practice safe cooking and to stay in the kitchen when you are cooking.

Never leave lighters or matches where children can reach them. Throughout the world, lighters and matches are prominent symbols of fire and fire ignition. Lighters and matches ignite candles, pilot lights, campfires, cigarettes, fireplace fires, and countless other presumably safe fires. Easy to buy, easy to transport and easy to use, matches and lighters are convenient and effective, but can also be deadly and destructive. A recent report from the U. S. Fire Administration says that lighters and matches caused 9 percent of all fires, and these fires killed 321 people and injured 1,877 more. A small flame in a child’s hand can quickly become unmanageable and dangerous. Firefighters recommend that children learn to tell an adult when they see matches or lighters. Adults should praise children for the report and consistently remind them that matches and lighters are adult tools, not toys.  Resolve to keep lighters or matches out of reach of children.

Plan Ahead! If a fire breaks out in your home, you may have only a 1-2 minutes to get out safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Everyone needs to know what to do and where to go if there is a fire. Gather everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Consider drawing a floor plan of your home for children and mark two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Select an outside meeting place, and instruct children never to hide when there is a fire. Once you’ve devised your plan, practice it.  Firefighters recommend that you make your home escape drill as realistic as possible and practice it twice a year. Before practicing a fire drill at night when children are sleeping, allow them time to practice escaping while they are awake. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill. Resolve to practice two fire drills with your family this year.

Close before you doze. The Close Your Door safety initiative comes as the result of over 10 years of research by the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute. This research has proved that a closed door can potentially save lives by keeping deadly heat and smoke out of the room. Actual tests have shown unsurvivable fire damage in hallways, yet minimal heat and smoke damage in an adjacent room protected by a closed door. Closing a door before you go to bed can make the difference between life and death. Forty years ago, you had about 17 minutes to escape from a home fire. Today the widespread use of synthetic construction materials, furniture, and other item scauses fire to burn hotter and faster, leaving you with only 2 minutes to escape to safety. Resolve to close your bedroom door before you snore.

On a personal note, showing appreciation and gratitude to all everyday heroes for keeping you and your family safe can go a long way in keeping them motivated and feeling valued. Resolve to visit your local fire station to learn about fire safety, and to thank your local firefighters for their volunteer efforts.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, 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 email her at



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