Most people use the gift of an extra hour given by the fall Daylight Saving Time change to catch a few extra Zzzs. Go for it—and when you get up, use another minute to test your alarms.
Ideally you should test all smoke alarms monthly, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association. For sure, let the biannual time change be a great reminder. Even for smoke alarms that have long-life batteries—or are hard-wired—it’s still important to make sure the alarm is working. Not every single long-life battery will work for 10 years, and even hard-wired alarms can fail. Test your CO detectors too. They need to be replaced every 5-7 years.
While having a working smoke alarm is important, it’s just as important that everyone knows what to do if it goes off. Make sure everyone in your home knows to get moving right away, because you probably have less time than you think to escape.
When you plan your escape route, include where outside you will all meet. Your meeting place should be a safe distance from your home but where firefighters can see you. Choose something very specific that everyone can remember and find easily: a tree, a telephone pole, or mailbox.
Do you need to update your escape plan? Look around and think about what’s changed in the last 6 months or year. Has an older adult joined your household? Consider whether they should sleep in a room on the ground floor to make escape easier. If anyone in your household has diminished hearing, consider a type of smoke alarm that uses a low frequency, flashing light or vibration.
This year many people are welcoming a return to holiday gatherings. Will guests be staying over? Tell visitors to your home about your family’s fire escape plan, including your meeting place. Show overnight guests how to open deadbolts or security bars. When you or your children are staying overnight at other people’s homes, ask about their escape plan.
People often debate the value of Daylight Saving Time. But there’s no debating the value of using this biannual change as a reminder to check your smoke alarm and CO detectors.
Even for smoke alarms that have long-life batteries—or are hard-wired—it’s still important to make sure the alarm is working. Not every single long-life battery will work for 10 years, and even hard-wired alarms can fail. So yes, you should still test your smoke alarms at least twice a year — once a month is better, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association. Replace smoke alarms after 10 years.
This is also a good time to check your CO detectors. Press and hold the Test Button on the front of the alarm until the alarm sounds (it may take up to 20 seconds). And look on the back, or near the battery compartment, for the date of manufacture. Most have a lifespan of no more than 7 years. Once you know your alarms are working, make sure everyone in your home knows what to do when the alarm goes off. Getting out may be more complicated than you think, especially if there are young children or people with disabilities in your home. And anyone may find it hard to respond quickly if the alarm goes off in the middle of the night. Go to homefiredrill.org to learn how to plan and practice a home fire drill.
A campfire casts a warm glow and a sense of adventure—even if it’s in your own backyard. Cooking dinner outside on a grill can make any meal “our favorite!” This year, being outside is a special pleasure. As we move outdoors and bring fire with us, it’s important to bring safety as well.
- Pick your spot carefully. Whether it’s a grill or firepit, make sure it’s well away from houses and sheds, vehicles, shrubs and trees including low-hanging branches.
- Enforce a “3-Foot Rule” just as you do for the stove. Keep children and pets at least three feet from the fire or grill.
- Never use gasoline or kerosene on either a grill or a campfire. If you’re using starter fluid with your grill, never put the fluid on a hot grill. Make sure lighter fluids are stored securely and away from children.
- Resist the belief that bigger is better when it comes to campfires! A roaring blaze can more easily get out of control, and can send embers long distances.
- Just as you wouldn’t leave the stove unattended, never leave your campfire or grill unattended. Put a campfire out completely before you go to bed. When you’re done with a charcoal grill, let the coals cool completely before moving or storing it.
- Store lighters and matches out of sight and reach of children.
- Model safe behavior for your children, treating fire with respect. Avoid assigning fire tasks to children too young to understand fire risk or react if something unexpected happens. To learn more about what children understand about fire.
Talented young artists from schools throughout the area–RCSD Abelard Reynolds School #42, Cobbles Elementary School, East Rochester School, Harris Hill Elementary School, Honeoye Falls Manor School, RCSD Pinnacle School #35, Scribner Road Elementary School, St. Joseph School, and the Charles Finney School–contributed posters to the contest this year.
Congratulations to our 1st Place Winners in each category:
Honorable mentions go to:
And congratulations to fifth-grader D’angelo Dixon, the lucky winner of a random drawing of all poster artists, who will get a ride on a firetruck to RCSD Abelard Reynolds School #42, courtesy of the Rochester Fire Department!
Prevention 1st would like to thank this year’s judges for their work in choosing this year’s winners: New York State Senator Joe Robach, Rochester Fire Marshal Christine Schryver, and Memorial Art Gallery Education Director Marlene Hamman-Whitmore.
Posters were judged on both artistic merit and the impact of its fire safety message. All participants will receive a certificate and all posters will be displayed at the following locations around the city and county during March:
Rochester Public Library Children’s Center (winners and honorable mentions)
Monroe County Office Building
Rochester City Hall
Rochester International Airport
Rochester Museum and Science Center
The Mall at Greece Ridge
Canandaigua National Bank
Eastside Family YMCA
Having a working smoke alarm, responding right away when it sounds, and having and practicing a plan to get out quickly are more crucial today than ever.
Modern homes are more susceptible to rapid fire spread, according to a study* by UL, a global safety certification company. The average U.S. home size has increased 56% since 1980, and more homes have two stories. The larger the home, the more air is available to sustain and grow a fire. Newer homes are also more likely to incorporate open floor plans, taller ceilings, great rooms and two-story foyers, which can contribute to rapid smoke and fire spread.
Modern building materials and furnishings are also more likely to include faster-burning synthetic materials and/or combustible materials.
UL conducted a number of fire experiments involving rooms made with either modern or “legacy” materials (contents that might have been found in a mid-20th century house), recording the time it took for “flashover” (a fire spreading very rapidly across a gap because of intense heat) to occur. These experiments found that while flashover took 29 minutes or more in legacy rooms, in modern rooms it took less than 5 minutes. In addition, modern windows and doors fail more rapidly than their legacy counterparts, which can allow more air in to fuel the fire.
Average fire department time to residential fires from 2004 to 2009 was approximately 6.4 minutes according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System.
A working smoke alarm can reduce your risk of dying in a fire by 50%–if it is working, you respond to it immediately, and you can get out quickly, even in darkness. Here’s how to keep yourself and your family safer:
- Test your smoke alarms, ideally monthly, even if they have long-life batteries or are hard-wired.
- Plan ahead, and know how everyone in your home will get out, especially from bedrooms.
- Keep bedroom doors closed; whether modern or legacy they provide a barrier against smoke and heat. Feel the door with the back of your hand. If it’s hot, put down a towel or other material to keep out smoke, and go to a window to exit or signal to firefighters.
- If the alarm sounds, don’t waste time looking for the source—get out, then call 9-1-1.
*Kerber, S. Analysis of Changing Residential Fire Dynamics, UL, 2012.
When searching for your next Airbnb you might check out location, number of bedrooms, and whether it has a kitchen. But what about fire safety?
A study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed Airbnb listings across 17 countries. It found that less than half of Airbnb venues that allow smoking are equipped with smoke detectors, while nearly two-thirds of venues that do not allow smoking are equipped with smoke detectors.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoking was the leading cause of home fire deaths in the U.S. for the five year period of 2012-2016. Overall, one of every 31 home smoking material fires resulted in death.
A working smoke alarm can cut your risk of dying in a fire by 50%–but it must be working. Test smoke alarms when you arrive at your Airbnb, and take note of all exits and the pathways to them. Think about how you will get out if the alarm sounds in the middle of the night. Be sure to keep pathways free of clutter.
If you smoke, use only fire-safe cigarettes, use a deep sturdy ashtray, don’t discard cigarettes in vegetation such as potted plants, and never smoke in bed.
Sheryl Watts, a Safe at Home trainer for Prevention 1st, sees firsthand the positive effect the program has on individuals and their families
Recently she worked with Christopher, a young man who lives with his parents and was excited every week about what he was learning. And he loved sharing his knowledge, often saying at the end of his session with Sheryl: “I can’t wait for Dad to come home so I can teach him this!”
His excitement rose highest at the final session, when he was able to perform all the safety techniques he’d learned without prompting. When Sheryl told him he was officially graduated and would get a certificate, his reveled in his accomplishment: “I can’t believe I did that!”
Safe at Home trainers all have a fire safety background. Sheryl also works full-time at Lifetime Assistance, where she is in charge of fire safety. Each training starts with an assessment of any fire hazards in the home, and for this Sheryl often teams up with another trainer who has experience as a firefighter.
At the first session she also assesses the current fire safety knowledge of the person being trained. Then in 30-45 minute in-home weekly sessions, Sheryl teaches them about cooking safety, identifying fire hazards, locating and testing smoke alarms, exiting when the alarm goes off, and calling 9-1-1. Each week the previous week’s lessons are also reviewed.
Training may last from 3 weeks to 8 weeks depending on the person’s knowledge at the beginning and how well they retain new knowledge. At the end of each of Christopher’s sessions, Sheryl talked about what he had learned with his mother, who worked with him between weekly sessions.
“Actually practicing the techniques is important,” explains Sheryl. “Christopher learned how to exit his bedroom safely if the alarm goes off: test the door using the back of the hand, take a cell phone and shoes, and if the door is hot how to block smoke from under the door and go to the window to signal for help”.
Safe at Home is customized to the individual. Sheryl has worked with one young woman with autism who wasn’t very verbal. So they made picture cards together and then used them as part of learning.
“I’d ask ‘There’s a noise going off, what could that be?’ And she’d point to the alarm, “ Sheryl explains. “We’d lay out the cards in a sequence showing what might make the alarm go off—fire—and what we should do next—an exit.”
All of Sheryl’s trainees have one thing in common: “They really want to learn, and to be safe.”
Seeing the sense of accomplishment they get from their achievements is very rewarding for Sheryl. So is their determination to apply what they’ve learned. For example, at the beginning of his training Christopher could find the smoke alarm but didn’t know how to test it. Sheryl demonstrated the test button and they discussed how important it is that the alarm is always working. Now Christopher is looking forward to testing those alarms–with his father–every month.
You still have to provide other pieces of the safety puzzle.
Fire departments and injury prevention organizations like Prevention 1st are celebrating the upcoming implementation of New York State’s new smoke alarm requirements. As of April 1, all smoke alarms sold in New York must have a 10-year, sealed, non-removable battery, which will undoubtedly prevent a significant number of fire deaths and serious injuries.
While most fires happen during the day, most fatal fires occur at night. Having even one working smoke alarm in your home reduces the chance of dying in a fire by more than half. It is difficult to find a more effective, accessible and affordable prevention tool, which is why most states require them in the first place. Yet people still die in fires on a regular basis. Why?
Missing or dead batteries! Well-meaning people, annoyed by the sound of a dying battery, or by one that is doing its job around a smoky kitchen or steamy bathroom, take out the battery. So do people who are in immediate “need” of a battery for a remote control or other device. Regardless of reason, most people have every intention of replacing that battery, but just don’t get around to it, with sometimes tragic consequences.
Ten-year smoke alarms, with long-life batteries that are sealed into the unit, will make a big difference in improving safety. But there are a few things New Yorkers need to know before they install their new ones and forget about them for a decade.
Test your smoke alarm regularly. Long-life batteries are just that – but “long life” may not be ten years. Batteries can and do fail, so continue to test them once a month.
Keep it free of dirt and dust. Alarms are sensitive and finely tuned; like any appliance, they work better when clean! Use a vacuum hose or duster to remove damaging dirt.
Be ready to replace it before ten years is up. A 2008 CDC-commissioned study found that after ten years, 78% of smoke alarms with lithium batteries were that were installed through a public outreach program were still operational. That leaves 22% that were not. Keep testing!
Don’t forget the other pieces of the safety puzzle. The time to figure out who is helping children or elderly relatives escape from fire is not the middle of the night with alarms going off and smoke filling your home. Develop an exit plan with your family and practice it at least twice a year!
The new smoke alarms, while slightly more expensive, will be well worth the cost in lives saved and injuries prevented. But they are not a cure-all, and taking a few additional steps will help make your home and your family that much safer.
This article also appeared as an op-ed piece by Prevention 1st president Molly Clifford in the March 23,2019 issue of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Working from home, learning from home, or just staying home…We’ll all spending a lot more time at home. Today’s electrical demands can overburden the electrical system of your home, especially if it’s more than 40 years old and has older wiring, electrical systems, and devices.
Protect yourself and your family by making sure all electrical work in your home is done by a qualified electrician and following these tips from USFA:
- Always plug major appliances–such as refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers–directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord with a major appliance.
- Unplug small appliances when you’re not using them.
- Keep lamps, light fixtures and light bulbs away from anything that can burn.
- Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture.
- Check electrical cords on appliances often. Replace cracked, damaged and loose electrical cords.
- Don’t overload wall outlets.
- Never force a three-prong cord into a two-slot outlet.
- Install tamper-resistant electrical outlets if you have young children.
- Use power strips that have internal overload protection.
Find more home fire prevention tips and information at USFA’s electrical fire safety outreach materials webpage: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/electrical.html.