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Fire/Electrical Continued

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Other ways to prevent fires or to prevent the spread of fires involve maintaining the care and condition of the home. Debris such as trash and leaves should be cleared from the outside of the home and from the gutters. Similarly, vegetation in all forms should be regularly trimmed back and kept away from the home, especially in densely wooded areas so as to make it more difficult for a wild fire to jump to the home itself.

Inside the home, adults should regularly inspect electric sockets, electric cords, and surge protectors to make sure that no wires are frayed or cut, no outlets have loose screws and no outlets have become unseated from their proper snug position inside the wall. Damage to these devices could cause a fire or electrocution risk. Owners of older homes should hire an electrician to come in and bring their electrical system up to code. At the very least, ground fault interrupter circuit should be installed for outlets near sources of water, such as sinks and tubs and exterior outlets so as to reduce the risk of electrocution. Power strips and extension cords shouldn't be loaded with more appliances than recommended. Furthermore, child outlet covers should be plugged into any unused outlets to prevent little fingers from electrocution.

Clothes dryer vents and bathroom ceiling or wall vents can become clogged with lint and debris and become a significant source of fire risk. Caregivers should check for and remove any built-up lint and debris inside dryer and ceiling vents on a regular basis. The lint basket or filter built into the household clothes dryer should be cleaned after each load of laundry has been completed.

Some homes use space heaters or fireplaces to supplement the furnace for heat. Extreme caution and vigilance is warranted when using such heating devices. Curtains, blankets, and other flammable materials should be kept away from space heaters. In addition, space heaters should never be left on when people have left the room or the home, or while the family is sleeping. A young child should never be left in a room alone with an operating space heater.

Fireplaces should also be monitored and cleaned regularly by a professionally trained technician to remove any residue in the flue that could catch fire. Even when the fireplace is deemed safe to operate, adults should monitor its use. Once again, young children should never be left alone in a room with an operating fireplace and should not be allowed to throw things into the fire. Adults should only use appropriate fuel in the fire rather than using the fire to burn debris or trash. A sturdy screen should be placed before the fire at all times, and fireplaces should not be left burning overnight while the family sleeps.

Devices or appliances that burn fuel to create heat (such as fireplaces, wood stoves, furnaces, space heaters, and gas stoves) create carbon monoxide gas as a waste product. Carbon monoxide gas is a deadly poison that can kill if undetected. When these devices are functioning and used properly following manufacturers' directions, carbon monoxide gas is safely vented away from where people are living. Any blockage of vent pipes or improper installation of such devices may result in carbon monoxide buildup inside the home, however, creating a serious safety risk for the entire family. This is why it is a good idea to have heating appliances professionally installed and maintained on a regular basis.

As an extra precaution, caregivers should install carbon monoxide detectors near heating appliances, and also near stoves, water heaters and dryers that work by burning natural gas that is piped into the home. Caregivers should also learn the warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Low levels of carbon monoxide over time can create flu-like symptoms: fatigue, headaches, nausea. As the level increases, the symptoms worsen. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause unconsciousness and death. If more than one individual in the home is struck with this same cluster of symptoms at the identical time, carbon monoxide poisoning should be considered. Contractors or the gas company should be contacted to perform a home inspection, and doctors should be consulted if necessary.

Even with the best precautions in place, accidents can happen and fires may occur. Families should be prepared for these instances. Fire extinguishers should also be stored in visible and easily accessible locations around the house (but still out of reach of young children). The family should make a detailed escape plan for how to exit the house in case of fire. Families should practice this plan a couple of times each year as children grow older and capable of following directions in order to make the plan less scary and disorienting should it ever need to be implemented. A proper escape plan should offer two escape routes from each room (often one door and one window). For upper floors, adults can store safety ladders near windows to allow for an easier escape. Everyone should learn to leave the house immediately through this route, not to hide in a closet or other place. Children should be instructed to never to return to a burning house, even if belongings or pets are missing and thought to be still inside. The family should designate a safe place outside the home, such as a neighbor's home, to meet and to call for emergency help.

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