October 25, 2005
Common Sense on Fire Safety
By: Senator Tom Harkin
The statistics surrounding household fires are sobering. In 2004, over 400,000 residential fires amounted to 3,255 deaths, more than 14,000 injuries, and close to six billion dollars in damages nationally. Residential house fires made up 83 percent of all fire deaths and 80 percent of all injuries.
As a Senator, I have worked hard ensure that our firefighters have the resources that they need. Three years ago, as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I made a full-court press to more than double funding to $750 million for the Assistance to Firefighters grant program. Despite budget cutbacks, I have been able to maintain this funding level for the past few years.
While it is crucial that we adequately support our firefighters, Iowans themselves must form the first line of defense against fires by ensuring that they have working smoke alarms and effective fire safety plans. Of 17 fatal home fires in Iowa investigated by the State Fire Marshal's Office during 2002 – 12 houses either did not have smoke alarms installed or had defective smoke alarms. The absence of a working smoke alarm could literally mean the difference between life and death.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to safeguard yourself and your family:
- Make sure your smoke alarms work and have a working power supply. Test your smoke alarm once a month and replace the batteries once a year. Smoke alarms themselves usually last about 10 years. When you check your smoke alarm, also check for dirt and cobwebs, which may cause false alarms.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and near every sleeping area. Make sure that everyone can hear an alarm go off when they are in their bedroom.
- Consider installing interconnected smoke alarms, those hard-wired into a home's electrical system, throughout your house. That way, if one alarm goes off, all the alarms in your house will go off.
- Sleep with your bedroom door closed. This prevents smoke and fire from entering your bedroom before you are awakened by the smoke alarm.
- Prepare and practice a safe first and second escape route from your home. Remember, smoke and heat rise, so stay near the floor for the best air. You may want to buy an escape ladder and keep it under your bed if your bedroom is above ground level.
- In 2004, 31.4 percent of residential fires were caused by cooking. To help curb these statistics, buy a big lid that will cover all your pots and pans. Sew a long-cuff oven mitt to the handle and put it near the cooking range for emergencies. If a pan catches fire, never attempt to move it – rather, cover it up with the lid.
- Buy and keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and garage. Mount it on the wall so it won’t get buried in a cabinet. Remember, some fire extinguishers are disposable and others may need to be serviced each year and charged after each use.
For questions about fire extinguishers or any other fire safety tip listed above, don't hesitate to call up your local fire department. I am confident in the expertise of these heroes, and I know they will be more than willing to help save lives and give advice in any way they can.