Tag Archives: Fire

Time Off? Scream Fire and See What Happens

This is usually a week where family hangs out after the holidays.  In a calm moment at the house, scream ‘Fire’ and see who knows gets out of the house quickly and safely.

If no one knows how to get out, create a home emergency exit plan this Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s how:

  1. Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room, in case of flooding or fire. If your home has more than one story, make sure there is a way to safely exit the upper floors.
  2. Place a copy of each plan in each room in an obvious location – like on a door (just like hotels do!).  
  3. Practice your escape plan every month using two exits. Make sure windows and doors aren’t stuck (winter freeze?) and that screens can be removed.
  4. Practice at night to see how long family members take to wake up. You should also practice blindfolded. Why? This mimics the darkness of smoke. Smoke makes it very difficult to see anything as you try to get out.
  5. Designate a place for everyone to meet outside. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number of this place (so you can call if the emergency happens and you’re not there). Consider a neighbor’s house or nearby gas station.

Also, get your kids involved with this; they’ll need to know how to get out as well.  Here are some good tips:

  1. Have your kids choose the place where to meet in case you need to leave the house immediately. Make a deal with your kids that they will stay in that spot until they are told by firefighters or police that it is OK to move. Make sure this meeting place is away from the road and driveway – first responder vehicles will drive on these.
  2. You’ve done the family escape plan – have the kids color in escape routes (remember they have to have two exits to color in).
  3. Have your kids choose where they’d like to place the escape plan in their room (you need to make it easily accessible) as well as other rooms in the house.

Also, you may not be home when an emergency or fire strikes – so ….

  1. Know the emergency response plan adn phone numbers for your workplace, your children’s school or day-care center, as well as other places where your family spends time.
  2. Also, meet with neighbors either informally or through a neighborhood group to create a neighborhood preparedness plan. Learn what neighbors or relatives may require extra assistance.

OK, that should fill a couple of hours this weekend.  Have a safe and happy new year!


How to Trim a Tree Safely

Yesterday we posted some info from the US Fire Administration and Safe Kids USA on fire safety around the holidays.  Today we’re looking at what they have to say about trimming the Christmas tree:

If you decorate a tree, Safe Kids USA and the USFA recommend these precautions:

  • Never leave a lighted Christmas tree or other decorative lighting display unattended.
  • Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets.
  • Do not overload extension cords or outlets and do not run an electrical cord under a rug.
  • Natural Christmas trees always involve some risk of fire. To minimize this risk, get a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times.
  • Do not put a live tree within three feet of a fireplace, space heater, radiator, or heat vent.
  • Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood, or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.

Decorate with children in mind:

  • Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them.
  • Trim protruding branches at or below a child’s eye level
  • Keep lights out of reach.

Safe Kids USA offers these tips to prevent poisoning (take note of the berries for pets as well as kids!)

  • Keep alcohol (including baking extracts) out of reach
  • Do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended.
  • Color additives used in fireplace fires are a toxic product and should be stored out of reach.
  • Artificial snow can be harmful if inhaled, so use it in a well-vented space.
  • Mistletoe berries, Holly Berry and Jerusalem Cherry can be poisonous. If they are used in decorating, make sure children and pets cannot reach it.
  • In a poison emergency, call the national Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.

USFA and Safe Kids USA – Don’t Burn Down the House

Here’s a stat that wakes you up: the top four days for candle fires are around Christmas and New Years, according to a release from the US Fire Administration.  They’ve joined with Safe Kids USA to talk about fire safety and kids this season.

They also say that candles started over 15,000 house fires in the US in 2005.  That would probably wipe out a good portion of your neighborhood.

Also – from their release – Wintertime is the most dangerous time of the year for injuries and deaths from fire. Each year, approximately 450 children ages 14 and under die in residential fires; children under the age of 5 are at the greatest risk.

Here are their tips:

  • Battery-operated flameless candles are an alternative that does not have a fire risk.
  • Decorative lighting should be labeled with the seal of an independent testing lab and should only be used outdoors if it’s labeled for outdoor use.

And some tips from Suzanne Morton, Safe Kids USA fire and burn safety program manager:

  • Never, never leave lit candles unattended
  • Don’t put candles on a tree or a natural wreath, or near curtains or drapes
  • Keep matches and lighters locked out of reach of children

– Susan

Don’t Let the Pumpkin Burn the House Down

Every year, fires during the holiday season (which we’re stretching from Halloween through New Year’s) cause around $930 million dollars in property damage. Take extra precautions by following these tips.

Holiday Decorations

  1. When we say ‘holiday’ we mean Halloween, Thanksgiving, religious holidays and New Year’s Eve.
  2. Consider using decor (artificial tree, scarecrow) that is labeled “flame resistant.”
  3. Do not place your tree, lit pumpkin or outdoor lights close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent.
  4. Evergreens:
    • If you do use an evergreen, water it daily to keep it from drying out.
    • Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.
  5. If you do use an evergreen, water it daily to keep it from drying out.
  6. Lights:
    • Make sure to inspect stringed lights and window ornaments annually for deterioration.
    • Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
    • Use lights in their designed areas. Don’t use ‘indoor’ lights outside.
    • Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.
  7. All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents.
  8. Don’t burn wrapping paper, candy wrappers, or boxes in your fireplace.
  9. For pumpkins, trees, outdoor decor and wreaths: Consider battery-operated candles instead of ‘real’ ones. Check out SmartCandle and Amazon.com, which has a slew of options.


  1. If you have a party with smokers, you should always check between sofa and chair pads because cigarettes, cigars and other items can drop down and smolder for hours before you even know the fire has started.
  2. Don’t smoke in bed or while sitting in furniture.
  3. Don’t leave burning cigarettes in an ashtray.
  4. Keep lighters and matches out of sight and reach from children.
  5. If you smoke outdoors, be sure to take in all ashtrays and cigarette butts so the wind does not blow the ashtray contents around your property.
  6. Make sure all butts have be extinguished before emptying the ashtrays.

The goal: Safety first, fun second.

– Susan

FEMA and WHN Offer Sound Advice about Surviving a Disaster

Tornado season is in full swing for parts of the country. Other natural disasters have been reported throughout the nation. Being prepared can make the difference between safely weathering the storm and becoming a victim of the disaster!

  • WHN TIP: Click here for a comprehensive list of natural disasters, preparedness, survival and rebuilding provided by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you find this site challenging to navigate, visit the Natural Disasters section right here on the WHN website for advice, helpful links and forms to complete.

If you don’t already have a weather alert radio, this would be the perfect time to purchase one.  You can do a simple Google search for “weather alert radios” options and detailed explanations about the different types. You can also try a consumer search site for reviews and ratings of different models.

A good friend of a WHN reporter experienced a tornado firsthand during Memorial Day weekend in 2008. She was home alone in Hugo, MN when the EF-3 tornado with wind gusts of 136 to 165 mph hit the city. The tornado struck at about 5:30 p.m. on the Sunday of Memorial weekend, May 25, 2008 and tore a mile-long swath through a residential area. About 675 homes were damaged and 60 of those were deemed uninhabitable. (One 2-year-old child was killed. His sister, just five years old, was severely injured and still requires a wheelchair a year later.)

Our friend was in a townhouse complex with seven units, none of which have basements. She didn’t have a weather radio or a concrete plan outlining the best course of action. Luckily, when she noticed that the water in the toilet was splashing wildly, her first instinct was to get to the lower level and into a secure corner. The combined weight of the attached homes helped anchor them against the tremendous force of the winds. Her recount of the experience included the usual “it sounded like a freight train” and “I could hear deafening sounds of buildings being destroyed”.

After the storm had passed, she surveyed the damage to her home. Baseball-sized hail had crushed the master bedroom window and the floor was covered with huge ice chunks. Siding blew off some of the units, but the townhouses suffered little more than window and outside damage, even though nearby blocks were all but destroyed.

She used her cell phone to keep in touch with her parents in another city during the storm, but had to hang up during the worst of it due to the extraordinary amount of noise. She didn’t sustain any injuries.

Due to the holiday weekend, many families were away. This twist of fate proved to be a major factor in reducing the number of injuries and fatalities.

A year after the disaster, according to Hugo city officials, two of the ruined homes still have damage and three or four lots remain vacant and are on the market. The rest of the homes have been restored.

  • WHN TIP: Officials in cities with siren warning systems often remind residents that the sirens may not be audible inside a dwelling. Advisories may be broadcast many hours before a storm and should be your first warning to go through your survival plan. Conducting drills with your family is a great way to ensure everyone knows what to do in the event of a storm, especially if it arrives with little or no warning.

Review your plan while the weather is beautiful.  Your time will be well spent!

If you have questions or would like to share your experiences, please email me: Leann (at) WhatHappensNow.com.

Grilling on Memorial Day Weekend – Don’t Blow Up the House

It’s finally warm and we’re grilling out with friends this weekend.

The grill has been hibernating since last fall; we’ll be going through tips our writers put together on grilling safety so we don’t inadvertently blow up the house or set the dog on fire.

Here’s good info on BBQ safety from the Home Safety Council.

We just posted this on backyard fire pit safety.

Here are a couple of good tips from both articles.

  1. Establish a ‘no-kid zone’ around the BBQ and the fire pit.
  2. Never leave children unsupervised. Kids tend to not realize the danger in fire and are fearless when it comes to getting close to one. Children can be careless when walking or playing around a fire and get seriously hurt.
  3. Don’t eat too many cheeseburgers at once. Pace yourself.  There a lots of parties. Remember – it’s a three-day weekend.

Ok, that last one isn’t in any of the articles…Just good advice.

Watch the kids (and the dogs) and have fun this weekend!


The Fire Danger is Rising – Be Smart and Stay Safe!

In some parts of the U.S., it might have seemed like winter would never end in 2009. When it did, floods in places like Fargo, ND made national news. The focus on flooding may have taken our focus away from another real danger – wildfires.

Citizens of Shakopee, MN got a huge reminder that a small fire started by a resident to burn a brush pile can cause massive damage. On April 15th, a fire tore through tall, dry grass and weeds with over 100 acres affected before fire crews could get it under control. Nearby townhouses were threatened but not destroyed.

Outdoor burning regulations vary by county. Before you start grilling, build a campfire or burn anything, contact someone at the county or city level to get information about burning regulations in your area. For example, unlawful trash burning is a punishable offense, so it is best to be armed with information and abide by the laws.

Before you burn, it would be wise to visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website at www.nfpa.org. Two other sites packed with great information are www.firewise.org and www.smokeybear.com. As of April 16th, the number of acres burned in the U.S. since January 1, 2009 is 696,115 and counting, according to smokeybear.com. Many of these would have easily been prevented if the ones who started them followed simple fire safety guidelines. Check out these sites and speak with your county or city officials first!

If you have questions or comments to share, email me – Leann (at) WhatHappensNow.com.

Check the Smoke Detectors in Your Home

Having a working smoke alarm reduces your chance of dying in a fire by nearly one-half, according to the United States Fire Administration (USFA).  You should have smoke alarms on every level of your home and outside bedrooms.  If you keep bedroom doors closed, put a smoke alarm in each bedroom

Here are more smart tips from their site:

  1. Test your alarm and check or replace your batteries today, along with the following ‘starter list.’
  2. Make sure you have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers for each floor of your home. Check with your fire department or building code official if there are code requirements for additional alarms.
  3. Many hardware, home supply or general merchandise stores carry smoke alarms.
  4. Make sure the alarm you buy is UL-listed. The Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit, product-safety testing and certification organization and has tested products for public safety for more than a century.

What to know about smoke detectors

There are two different types of smoke detectors available:

  1. Ionization smoke detectors typically are better at detecting fast flaming fires, which consume combustible materials rapidly and spread quickly. Examples of fast flaming fires include paper burning in a wastebasket, or a grease fire in the kitchen.
  2. Photoelectric smoke detectors generally are more effective on slow smoldering fires. These are fires that smolder for hours before bursting into flames, such as when a lighted cigarette is dropped onto a couch or bedding.

Things to know about these detectors -

  1. Some detectors have a dual sensor, which can detect both ionization (fast flames) and photoelectric (smoldering) fires.
  2. Consider purchasing ‘wireless’ or ‘interconnected’ alarm systems. This means when one alarm goes off, it will trigger the other alarms.
  3. Follow instructions for proper use and installation.
  • Generally speaking, the smoke alarms should be near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or six to twelve inches below the ceiling on the wall.
  • If on the ceiling, the smoke detector should be mounted away from corners and walls (at least 8-10 inches away).
  • In a room with a pitched ceiling, a smoke detector should be mounted at or near the ceiling’s highest point.
  • Locate smoke alarms away from air vents.

Smoke detector facts and care

  1. Smoke alarms should be replaced every eight to ten years.
  2. Consider writing the purchase date on your alarm with a permanent marker. That way, you’ll know when to replace it.
  3. Smoke detectors should not be painted.
  4. Test! Press the “test” button for a few seconds – this will activate the alarm.
  5. Clean! Smoke alarms are particle-sensitive and dust, lint or cobwebs can limit its ability to detect smoke. Keep smoke alarms clean by vacuuming the surface and around the alarm with a vacuum attachment.
  6. Replace the batteries twice a year, or earlier if necessary. (Here’s a WHN reader tip – Change smoke detector batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.)
  7. Never disconnect a good smoke detector battery if it alarms due to cooking or to use the battery for other purposes. You may not remember to put the batteries back in after cooking.

Conduct home fire drills monthly to test the condition of your equipment and ensure your family knows what to do in the event of a fire. Periodically, test the smoke alarm when your children are sleeping: reports show that children often sleep too soundly to hear the alarm.

Here’s another WHN reader tip: If you have children or elderly adults in your home, they may sleep through the alarm. Consider alternative devices such as voice warning systems or low frequency alarms. Use these together with regular smoke detectors.

– Susan

    Holy Smokes

    Sad news in Chicago – the 134-year-old Holy Name Cathedral caught fire early this morning.  CNN reports that it took 2.5 hours to put the fire out, and there is extensive  damage to the roof and attic (where it is believed to have started) as well as enormous water damage inside. Thankfully no one died.

    How the fire began is a mystery – so there will be an investigation.

    We’ve often wondered what kind of questions a person is asked if their house (or church….) burns down, so we went to the experts.

    Read what firemen and arson investigators told us were common after-the-fire questions.

    We’re Baaaack! National Fire Prevention Week

    After a long hiatus the WhatHappensNow.com blog is back with a new look and great new functionality.  Woo-hoo!  Thank you for your patience and welcome back.  We’re happy you’re here and excited to bring you great new advice in the coming months.

    With that, let’s get to it!

    This week marks National Fire Prevention Week.  The theme?  Preventing house fires.  Nick Nolte seemed to have missed this memo.  His Malibu house burned down this week due to an electrical shortage, causing an estimated $3million between structural and personal property damage.  Ouch.  Fortunately Mr. Nolte got out suffering only minor cuts and bruises.

    Are you prepared?   Check out our “House Fire / Get Prepared” section to get tips on getting prepared for the possibility of a house fire.  And don’t let a faulty circuit start a fire at your house – test them today.  Read more in our article on simple tips to “Test Electrical Outlets”.

    Be smart and be safe!