By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for the Havre Daily News
Residential fires claim the lives of 3,600 people each year and injure an additional 18,500. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that someone dies in a fire every 2 hours, with children younger than 5 at greatest risk.
Would you know what to do if a fire started in your home? Would your child?
This week is Fire Prevention Week. This year's theme is "Test Your Smoke Alarms." The presence of a properly working smoke alarm, together with a proper escape plan, can prevent unnecessary tragedies. All family members, especially younger children, must be educated about what to do when a smoke alarm sounds.
The National Fire Protection Association explains key procedures that should be checked and practiced in all homes.
Your home should have smoke alarms on every level, even the basement. It's especially important to have them outside of each sleeping area.
If you sleep with the door closed, you should consider having interconnected alarms installed. These alarms - installed by a qualified electrician - are connected so that if one sounds, they all sound.
Smoke alarms should be mounted high on walls or ceilings. Remember, smoke rises.
Check to make sure the batteries in the smoke alarms work. Test them at least once a month. Make a schedule to check the alarms by including it on a calendar.
How old is that alarm anyway? Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. And if no one can remember how old it is, it's probably time to replace it.
Consider installing smoke alarms with "long-life" (10-year) batteries.
Never "borrow" a battery from a smoke alarm.
Never paint, decorate or attach anything to a smoke alarm (including paper labels or stickers) because this could keep it from working properly.
Make sure that everyone in your home knows the sound of the smoke alarm, and knows exactly what to do if the alarm goes off. Sound the alarm at night to make sure that everyone wakes up.
When the alarm sounds, get out. It is important to teach children to always assume that the alarm means a real fire and to always follow your escape plan.
Does your home have an escape plan? If not, make one today. Start by walking through your home and identifying two ways out of every room. (One way out might be the door; the other could be a window). Then draw out your escape plan, so you can post it where everyone in the family can see it.
Make sure that doors, hallways and stairways and other exits out of your home are clear of toys, furniture and other clutter.
Does someone in your home need help getting around (like a grandparent, or an infant)? Make sure that they have someone to assist them in case of a fire. Be sure to assign a backup person in case the assistant isn't home.
Pick an outside meeting place where everyone can gather after they've escaped safely. A neighbor's house, a mailbox, or even a tree will do. Make sure that you mark the spot you've picked on your escape plan. Be sure to account for everyone in the household at this meeting place.
Memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. Be sure everyone understands they must get out first, then call for help from outside or at a neighbor's home.
Be ready for the real thing. Put your escape plan to the test with a fire drill at least twice a year. That way if a real fire ever happens, everyone in the family will know what to do.
Always choose the escape route that is safest. Practice crawling low under smoke in case you must go through it to get out. Your head will be in a "safety zone" of clean air about knee high.
Close the door behind you. Closing the doors as you leave can slow the spread of fire and smoke.
Keep fires from starting
Never leave food cooking on a stovetop unattended. This is particularly important if children are in the room.
Keep the stove clear of anything that could catch fire - particularly items normally found in a kitchen: paper towels, curtains, potholders or dishtowels.
Make the area around the stove a "kid-free zone." Children and pets should remain at least 3 feet from the stove when it is in use.
Never leave portable space heaters on when you leave the room or go to sleep. Keep heaters at least 3 feet from anything that can burn, including walls, bedding, clothes and curtains.
Never leave lighted candles unattended. Be sure candleholders are large enough to catch dripping and will not easily tip over. Never allow candles in kids' bedrooms.
If anyone in your home is a smoker, make sure they put water on cigarette butts or ashes before discarding them. Be sure they use large, heavy, nontip ashtrays.
Keep matches and lighters of all sorts out of sight and out of reach of children. Locking these items in a cabinet is best.
Make sure that all electrical cords used in the house are in good condition, with no cracked or frayed areas. Do not overload electrical outlets or use inadequate extension cords.
Any fuels or flammable liquids, such as gasoline, propane, kerosene or lighter fluids, should be kept in proper safety containers. These items should be removed from the house and locked in an garage or shed outdoors.
For more information about this or other related topics, contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.