Modern Survival Online (http://modernsurvivalonline.com) today had a post about a house fire next door. Rourke asked for comments. Fire is one of my favorite topics, so how could I not comment? Of course, I needed to go into more detail so it's my topic of the day too.
There are two types of fires we have to think about: Fires inside the home and fires coming from outside the home. These are two completely different topics, other than clutter and junk will feed a fire.
My favorite book on firefighting is Firefighter's Handbook on Wildland Firefighting: Strategy, Tactics and Safety by William C. Teie. There are chapters on wildland fire behavior, fireline safety, fire prevention, fire extinguishment methods, strategy, Incident Command System (ICS) and more. Even the seven and eight year old grandkids will sit down, read the book and take notes! The second book in this series Fire Officer's Handbook on Wildland Firefighting is also excellent. It goes into more detail on fire weather and behavior.
Two useful free guides for protecting the outside of your home can be found here, although they are not nearly as interesting or enjoyable to read: Property inspection guide http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/fire_er/fpp_engineering_view?guide_id=8 , Structure fire protection field guide http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/fire_er/fpp_engineering_view?guide_id=11 These two guides are used by inspectors to help them tell landowners what they need to do to protect the outside of their homes from wildfires.
Inside your home is a completely different story. Fire Prevention Week is coming up in October. Are you prepared? You should have a smoke detector in each bedroom or if not, in the hall outside the bedroom doors. You should also have a smoke detector in the living area (although not right in the kitchen). Don't remove the battery to use it in something else! Most house fires do have smoke detectors. Most house fires with deaths or injuries had smoke detectors with missing or dead batteries. Don't be stupid. It may cost two dollars per battery, so perhaps ten dollars to cover your entire house. I know that they say to change your battery every six months when you change the clocks but you don't really need to. Check the smoke detector. Does it work? If so, then the smoke detector will beep if the battery goes low. I write the date I put the battery in the smoke detector. I do check them when I change the clocks. If the battery is two years old I change it whether it needs it or not. Replace your smoke detector every ten years. Write the date of the smoke detector on the inside of it as well. Sharpies are very useful here.
Do you have a plan if the house catches on fire? What would the children do? Do they know how to check their door to see if it's safe to come out of their room to escape the fire? Do they know that how to get out a window if needed? Do you have a ladder for every room upstairs? Where is the meeting spot once they get outside? What about if you are traveling or they are spending the night at their friends? Practice your fire drills: stop, drop, and roll. Check the doors for heat. Crawl under smoke. If the fire fighters come into your house and you are trapped in your house, don't hide! Children tend to do this, especially if they were the ones to start the fire. Fire fighters sound like Darth Vader when breathing though their SCBA masks. It's scary but true. They look scary with their turnouts on, too.
Do you have fire extinguishers? The ABC type can be used on all types of fires. I have one in the kitchen, one in the laundry room, one in the garage, and one in my bedroom. These aren't tiny extinguishers, but full size, like you'd see in a school or office building. Mine have dials on them which show if they need to be refilled. Although I have mine checked every year they don't really have to be. If you have a dial on yours then just pay attention to the dial.
Do you sleep with your bedroom door opened or closed? For fire safety, each door should be closed. If you like to keep them open, as I do, then you should have a door at the end of the hall to at least break up the house into different separate zones. My house isn't like that. We have a smoke detector in my room, in the hall, in the family room, and in the garage.
In the kitchen you can pour baking soda on a grease fire. If the fire is confined to the pan, then put a lid on it. Don't try to take the pan to the sink. You will spill flaming oil and you know that oil and water don't mix anyway. Don't forget if you have a fire on the stove, turn the stove off. It's an easy step that people often forget.
Instead of heating the entire house, I sometimes use space heaters. Make sure the type of heater you use is on a surface that won't burn, and if it gets knocked over make sure that it won't fall on top of anything that will burn.
When you use extension cords or power strips make sure they will hold all the heat that your electrical items will produce. They can overheat easily. Check these to make sure that they aren't running hot. Don't go from "fat" cords to "thinner" cords. That's a recipe for disaster. Don't run cords under your carpet or rug. Make sure that the cords aren't cracked and that wires aren't sticking out at the plug.
Don't smoke and you won't have to worry about falling asleep with a lit cigarette. People die that way. Kids like to play with the lighters. Don't empty your ashtray into a plastic trash can or a paper bag. Just because you think there aren't any ashes doesn't mean there aren't any ashes.
Candles are something that we all use, either for the nice scent, as backup lighting if the power goes out, or just for setting a mood and decoration. Don't walk around holding candles. If your candle holder falls over or gets knocked over, where will it fall? Onto a burnable surface? Don't put candles on your Christmas tree.
When was the last time you had the chimney cleaned or you cleaned it yourself? Chimney fires are often disastrous because they spread to the attic easily. Once the fire is in the attic just get out of the house. It's too late to save the house.
Can you get out of your house? Is furniture blocking the window? Can you walk from one end of your house to the other with your eyes closed and without running into junk on the floor? Do you have locks on your doors that can only be opened with a key? If so, where is the key? Do you really want to be fumbling around in the smoke for the key?
You have to make a decision on when to fight the fire inside your home and when to leave it. Put safety first. If you can't put the fire out from inside the home within 15 seconds or so then go outside and use the hose to at least cool it down until help can arrive, if it comes.
Visit your local fire station. They will be happy to talk to you, show you their engines, and give you all kinds of pointers. You can even have them come to your house to conduct an inspection to tell you what you can specifically do to protect both the interior and exterior of your home from fire.