The following articles from the State Fire Marshal highlight important safety information about the most common causes of fire-related injuries and deaths.
Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley reminds Montanans to check the batteries in their smoke alarms when they change their clocks to Daylight Savings Time each spring.
Many homes have smoke alarms with nine-volt batteries that should be replaced at least twice each year. Long-life lithium batteries have a life span of up to 10 years and so don’t need to be replaced as often.
“The key is to take a few minutes to check, test and clean your smoke alarms to make sure they are functioning properly,” Lorenz said. “A good way to remember is to do this whenever you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 70 percent of all home fire deaths occur in homes with no alarms or no working alarms. In these cases, the alarms were missing batteries, the batteries were dead, or they had been disconnected. In Montana during 2004, 87 percent of fire deaths occurred in homes that did not have smoke alarms or in which the smoke alarms were not in working condition.
“Having a working smoke alarm more than doubles someone’s chances of surviving a fire,” Lorenz said.
General safety guidelines include:
Arson is a serious and deadly crime. Every year, deliberately set fires kill over 300 people and cause millions of dollars in property losses. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2003 there were an estimated 37,000 arson-caused structure fires.
State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley noted that arson and other uncontrolled wildland fires pose a serious threat to lives, property and natural resources in Montana’s rural and suburban communities.
According to Lorenz, most arson fires are started outdoors. Property owners should take the following steps to make it harder for an arsonist to start a fire and for an outdoor fire to spread to a building.
Report suspicious activity near houses or other buildings to local law enforcement. If you suspect that an arson crime has been committed, contact your local fire or law enforcement agency, or the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Let’s work together to stop arson and prevent fires.
Although more fire deaths occur during the winter, Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley urges Montanans to be aware that many outdoor summer activities carry potential fire hazards.
“Children often spend more time alone or with less adult supervision over the summer,” Lorenz said, “so parents need to make sure children know how to call the emergency services number to report a fire or injury, never to touch matches and lighters, and to get out and stay out of their homes if there’s a fire inside.”
NFPA statistics show that, in 2002, gas and charcoal grills caused 900 structure fires and 3,500 outdoor fires in or on home properties, resulting in a combined property loss of $30 million.
For many Americans, fireworks have become part of their July 4th holiday tradition – it wouldn’t be the same without beautifully colored sparks flying through the air in concert with loud explosions.
As exciting as this may seem, people often forget that they are playing with explosives: dangerous chemicals and combustibles that can injure people and destroy property. These deceptively simple objects explode, throw hot sparks and often reach temperatures above 1,200 degrees.
Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said that misused fireworks caused two deaths in Montana last year. Nationally, fireworks have caused millions of dollars in property loss and thousands of injuries and deaths.
“The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks display and let the professionals handle the explosives,” Lorenz said.
But if consumers do plan to shoot off their own fireworks, Lorenz reminds Montanans to pay particular attention to these safety tips:
College is the first taste of independence for many young adults. For the first time, students may be responsible for all aspects of their daily living. This is an important time to put safety practices into use.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking fires are the number one cause of fire injury on college campuses. The State Fire Marshal’s Office recommends the following guidelines:
Although many higher education facilities ban the use of candles in on-campus housing, approximately 66 percent of college students live off-campus. Many students reside in one and two-family dwellings and apartment buildings, which places them at a higher risk for candle-caused fires.
“Candles are one of the leading causes of residential fires and related deaths,” State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said. His office and the Center for Campus Fire Safety recommend the following tips for using candles safely:
Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the American population and they are at the highest risk for fire-related deaths. Based on 1995-1999 annual averages, adults 65 and older face a risk twice the overall average, while people 85 and older have a risk that is 4½ times the average, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). During 2005, more than one-third of fire fatalities were people over age 60. Statistics from the National Fire Incident Reporting System show that two out of every three fire deaths in the elderly occur when the victim is sleeping or trying to escape. This demonstrates the importance of preparing and practicing an escape plan and adjusting that plan to take into consideration the physical capabilities of older adults.
Older adults may have decreased mobility and other health issues that prohibit a quick response during a fire emergency. Many older adults take multiple medications that could lead to a slower response or confusion, altering the decision-making process. The impairments caused by the combination of alcohol and prescription drugs in older adults can further impede judgment and escape. Such impairments may also lead to an increased likelihood of accidentally starting a fire or not detecting a fire in its early stages.
“Often, a family member, caregiver or neighbor may need to help an older adult safely exit the home. Addressing these issues before a fire occurs is essential,” said Dick Swingley, Montana State Fire Marshal. Lorenz said the U.S. Fire Administration has recommendations for older adults and the people close to them.
Install and maintain smoke alarms
Plan the escape
Don’t be isolated
Live near an exit
Be fire safe
“Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility. Taking advantage of modern technology by installing a residential sprinkler system is an option worth exploring, especially for people with mobility issues,” added Lorenz.
According to the latest National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) research, cooking is the leading cause of home fires. One out of three home fires begins in the kitchen—more than any other area of the home. Cooking fires are also the leading cause of home fire-related injuries.
“Often when we’re called to a fire that started in the kitchen, the residents tell us that they only left the kitchen for a few minutes,” Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said. “But that’s all it takes for a dangerous fire to start.”
Firefighters and safety advocates emphasize these safety tips:
Warm, cozy homes and candle-lit holiday feasts play a major role in our preparations for family gatherings. Unfortunately, this also increases the risk of fires. Fires can be prevented and losses reduced by following a few simple safety measures.
Pay particular attention while cooking, especially when using oils and grease. Cooking appliances should be kept free of grease build-up, which can easily ignite. Applying a lid to a small grease fire is usually the most effective and safest method of controlling it. Trying to carry a pan that’s on fire is extremely dangerous because it can ignite clothes or spill, causing severe burns. If the fire is inside your oven, turn off the heat and leave the door closed to cut off the fire’s air supply.
Young children should be kept away from cooking appliances to prevent any mishaps. It’s always a good idea to use back burners when possible, and keep pot handles turned to the inside so they won’t be pulled or knocked over. Check stoves and other appliances before going to bed or leaving your home to make sure they are left in the “off” position.
With the increased popularity of frying turkeys, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and the National Burn Foundation warn consumers against using turkey fryers. Tests have shown that many of the fryers have a risk of tipping over, overheating or spilling hot oil, leading to fires and burns. For more information, see the Underwriter Laboratories (UL) website.
According to the National Candle Association, seven out of 10 households use candles. The NFPA reports that candle-caused fires have increased. However, the number of home fires in the nation continues to decrease. In 2001, candle fires accounted for 4.7 percent of home fires, compared with 1.1 percent in the early 1980s.
“As we enter into the colder months of the year, heating-related safety is of utmost concern. The majority of fire deaths occur between November and February, and they are often related to inadequate heating systems or improper use,” State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said.
Electric Heaters – Electric heaters should have automatic safety switches to turn them off if tipped over. They also should carry the UL approval label.
Kerosene Heaters – Many kerosene heater-related fires are attributed to misuse. Get started on the right foot by purchasing a heater that carries the UL label, which means it has been tested for safety. Be sure it has an automatic safety switch to shut it off if it’s tipped over. An automatic starter eliminates the need for matches and makes for safer starts. A fuel gauge will help ensure you do not overfill the heater. A safety grill on the front can prevent accidental contact burns. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembly.
Wood Heaters – Before investing in a wood stove or other wood burning device for your home, think more about safety than just the efficiency and appearance of the unit. Have your stove installed by a professional. Keep a tight fitting screen or glass doors in front of the stove or fireplace at all times. Special retaining screens can keep children and pets away from wood stoves and prevent burns.
Although these tips should help prevent a fire, know the signs of danger. A loud roar, sucking sounds and shaking pipes mean your chimney or flue is on fire. If you hear these sounds, get everyone out of the house. Quickly shut off the fire’s air supply by closing any air intake vents in the firebox. Close the damper if possible. Call the fire department from a nearby phone.
Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley says many deadly fires each year are the direct result of children playing with matches and lighters.
“Children do not understand the dangers of fire and are fascinated by its movement and color,” he said.
The United States has one of the highest fire-related death rates in the world, and fire is the second leading cause of accidental death in the home. More than 4,000 people die each year in home fires and 500,000 residential fires occur each year exceeding $4 billion in property loss.
“And each year, more than 200 fire deaths are associated with fires started by cigarette lighters,” Lorenz said. “About two-thirds of these are the result of children playing with lighters.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that about 150 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries each year the result of children under the age of 5 playing with lighters. While youngsters as young as 2 can operate a lighter, the majority of the children who start fires by playing with lighters are ages 3 and 4.
“At these ages, children are curious about fire and do not understand the inherent dangers,” Lorenz said, “and many times, when a child starts a fire, he or she does not tell anyone.”
Since 1994, the CPSC has set a mandatory safety standard that requires disposable lighters to be child-resistant. The standard covers 95 percent of the 600 million lighters purchased in the United States each year.
Lorenz said parents can take steps to keep their children safe.
“Our office, in partnership with the National Association of State Fire Marshals, wants to help prevent tragedies caused by children playing with fire,” Lorenz said. “Parents who are smart about matches and lighters around the house can help us achieve this critical goal.”
Burns and scalds can be deadly, especially to children under the age of five. Nationally, 600 children die and another 100,000 children are treated for burn-related injuries each year.
“Young children have thinner skin that burns more deeply and quickly. In a matter of seconds, children can sustain devastating physical and emotional injuries,” Lorenz said. “Kitchens and bathrooms can be the most dangerous areas of your home, especially for children, so close supervision is critical.”
The Montana State Fire Marshal’s Office joins with the National Association of State Fire Marshals to offer these burn prevention tips:
Families should develop a home escape plan that identifies:
Practice the plan regularly – at least once a year – to make sure that everyone knows what to do when the smoke alarm sounds.
Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley reports that evidence from national studies points to a link between alcohol and drug abuse, and fire injuries and fatalities. When smoking is combined with alcohol use, the risk of fire injuries and fatalities is even greater. Studies have shown that more than half of all alcohol-impaired fire deaths were the result of fires caused by careless smoking. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that smokers consume more alcohol than do non-smokers, heavy drinking tends to be associated with heavy smoking, and a large majority of alcoholics are smokers.
“Most people are aware that smoking is bad for the health of the smoker and the people around the smoker, but they may not be aware of the relationship between smoking and the potential for fire, especially when combined with drinking alcohol,” Lorenz said.
Fires are preventable. Montanans who smoke can improve their safety and protect their families by:
They could also install a residential sprinkler system to provide an even safer environment for their family, Lorenz suggested.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office encourages Montanans to take some time during their spring cleaning to check for lint build-up in clothes dryer vents and exhaust ducts.
“Oftentimes, lint build-up blocks the flow of air, causing excessive heat that can start a fire,” State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said.
To help prevent fires from occurring, Lorenz recommends the following steps:
According to 2004 data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), arson is the second most prevalent cause of vehicle fires. Vehicle fires account for almost one third of all arson fires. According to national statistics from 2004, there were 36,000 intentionally set vehicle fires in the U.S., which resulted in $165 million in property damage.
“Vehicle arson is an expensive crime and the public pays the price,” Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said. “Insurance premiums for everyone increase as a result.”
Vehicle arson may be committed by auto thieves to destroy evidence or by someone trying to destroy DNA evidence to cover up a more serious crime. Or it may be committed for financial gain by someone trying to eliminate a costly car payment or lease.
Citizens can take an active role in helping prevent vehicle arson fires by following these tips provided by the USFA:
Montana State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley urges Montanans to be especially careful when using gas and propane in their barbecues, lawn mowers and other gas- or propane-fueled equipment.
Gasoline safety tips:
Propane safety tips: