Camping, picnics, and Fourth of July celebrations are just a few ways that Southern New Englanders make the most of the warm summer months. Not to rain on your parade, but a report from the United States Fire Administration indicates that summer is one of the most dangerous seasons for fire-related injuries and deaths, many attributed to fireworks, campfires, and grilling. However, with a little preparation, you can protect yourself and your loved ones while still having a great time this summer.
Fireworks Safety Tips. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were approximately 18,500 fires from 2009 to 2013 that were caused by fireworks, with nearly half of them occurring on July 4. NFPA also reports that the risk of fireworks injury is highest for children ages 5 to 9, followed by children ages 10 to 19.
Fireworks are dangerous. Without a doubt, the safest way to enjoy them is at shows run by professionals and supervised by local fire departments.
In Rhode Island, only hand-held and ground-based sparkling devices are legal for the public to purchase and use. All other types of fireworks must be handled by licensed professionals. A responsible adult should always supervise fireworks activities, especially if you are celebrating with dangerous hand-held sparklers this summer. Sparklers can reach up to 3,000 degrees when ignited — hot enough to cause severe skin burns and set clothing on fire.
Remember that alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time, so save your alcohol consumption for after the fireworks. It is important to know how the fireworks you purchase work, so read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting. You should prepare the outdoor area where you will ignite them, and ensure that it is away from buildings and vehicles. You should also be prepared to extinguish fireworks. A connected hose, bucket of water, or extinguisher within reach are simple solutions.
Campfire Safety Tips. If you'll be camping this summer or just roasting marshmallows in the backyard, it's a good idea to educate yourself about campfire safety. Campfire accidents send thousands of people to emergency rooms with burn injuries every year.
Always follow the campfire rules for the area where you are camping or living. Some parks and towns prohibit fires, so check local regulations before you build a fire. To prepare the site, clear away all shrubbery and vegetation, dig a pit, and surround it with rocks to prevent the fire from spreading. Be sure to place the campfire downwind and away from where you pitch your tent or other combustible items, like chairs and hammocks. As an additional safeguard, only use tents made from flame-retardant materials.
Firefighters warn that a campfire should never be lit if you do not have the means of extinguishing it. Always keep plenty of water and a shovel nearby to use in an emergency and always be sure to put the campfire out when you are finished using it. To extinguish a campfire, douse it with water and then use a shovel to bury the fire with dirt. You should then wet down the area around the fire. Taking these steps will ensure that the fire does not rekindle. An extinguisher will make quick work of putting out the fire, too. It is also important that all members of your family know how to Stop, Drop, & Roll. Embers from the campfire can easily set clothing on fire, so practice these steps with your family.
Although large fires may seem impressive, it is much safer to keep fires small so they are easier to control. With that in mind, refrain from using gasoline, liquid fire starter, or any other type of flammable liquid to start your fire. These items should be stored away from the fire. Remember that campfires should never be left unattended. If you're going to sleep for the night, always take the time to put the fire out.
Grilling Safety Tips. According to NFPA, more than half of fires caused by grilling occur from May to August, and July is the peak month for grill fires. An NFPA study from 2013 to 2017 foound that gas grills were involved in an average of 8,700 home fires each year, and that more than a quarter of these outdoor grilling fires started on an exterior balcony or open porch. Most of the grill fires were fueled by gas, but charcoal or wood, were responsible for 1,100 home fires.
Propane and charcoal grills must only be used outdoors. If used indoors, or in any enclosed space such as a garage or tent, they pose a fire hazard and a risk of exposing occupants to deadly carbon monoxide. For safe grilling place the grill at least 10 feet away from siding and deck railing, and out from under eaves. Be sure that there are no overhanging branches and that the grill is a safe distance from lawn games, play areas, and foot traffic. Keep matches, lighters, and starter fluid out of the reach of children in a locked drawer or cabinet, and maintain a “kid-free zone” around the grill to keep children and pets safe. Protect the chef from heat and flames when cooking by using long mitts and long-handled grilling tools. Keep your grill clean by periodically removing grease or fat buildup in the trays below the grill so it cannot be ignited.
With a little bit of planning this summer, fireworks, marshmallows by the campfire, and burgers on the grill can be safe and fun for you and your family. For more information on summer fire safety, visit www.nfpa.org.
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 e-mail her at email@example.com.