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At Home

 | Tips for a Safer Home | What to Do in an Emergency | About Fire Extinguishers | Home Heating Safety

Tips for a Safer Home

Here are some easy ways to help make your home safer:

  • properly install and regularly check smoke alarms on every floor and near every sleeping area
  • establish a fire escape plan and practice it routinely
  • don't store highly-flammable materials (gasoline, solvents, oil-based paint, etc.) in the house
  • don't overload electric outlets or extension cords--never use cords that are frayed or damaged
  • dispose of oily rags properly (place them in a container of water and cover with a lid)
  • keep at least one fire extinguisher (ABC type) in an accessible location in your home, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use it; consider keeping several extinguishers in strategic places including the kitchen, the garage, the basement, and the second floor
  • have furnaces, chimneys, and all heating appliances checked and cleaned by a professional before each heating season
  • always turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to sleep
  • keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children; teach children to never play with fire
  • never leave burning candles unattended
  • never leave the kitchen when the stove is on
  • keep combustibles at least 3 feet away from all heat sources (furnaces, stoves, cooking ranges, space heaters, fireplaces, etc.)
  • make sure everyone in your house knows how and when to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches
  • post emergency telephone numbers near your telephone
  • teach children how and when to dial 911

What to Do in an Emergency

  • designate 2 places to meet:
    • right outside the house in a sudden emergency like a fire
    • outside your neighborhood in case you can't return (everyone must know address and phone number)
  • ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact"; after a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance; other family members should call this person and tell them where they are; everyone must know your contact's phone number
  • prepare a disaster supply kit
  • discuss what to do in an evacuation; plan how to take care of your pets; they are not allowed in emergency shelters due to health regulations
  • learn about your community's warning signals; what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them
  • listen to a battery powered radio for weather updates and stay informed
  • find out about disaster plans at your workplace, your children's school or daycare center and other places where your family spends time
  • practice and maintain your plan and question your kids every six months so they remember what to do

Disaster Supply Kit

Should include:

  • A three day supply of water (one gallon per person per day.) Replace every three months
  • Non-perishable foods and a non-electric can opener. Rotate supply every six months
  • One change of clothing, rain gear and footwear per person, and blankets and sleeping bags
  • A first aid kit and prescription medications
  • An extra pair of glasses
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries
  • An extra set of car keys and credit cards, cash or travelers checks
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Special Items for infants, elderly or disabled family members
  • Keep important family documents in a waterproof container

Keep a smaller version of the above kit in the trunk of your car in addition to the following:

  • Booster cables
  • fire extinguisher (5 lb, A-B-C type)
  • first aid manual
  • maps
  • shovel
  • flares
  • tire repair kit
  • pump

For more information on home safety, visit the Home Safety Council website.


About Fire Extinguishers

A fire extinguisher can be a life-saver--literally--but it's important to know how to use one properly. It's also important to understand their limitations. Here's a short primer on fire extinguishers. If you have further questions please contact us.

When Not to Use an Extinguisher

The most important thing to remember is that fire extinguishers aren't designed to fight a large or spreading fire. If you're faced with such a fire, don't try to attack it with an inadequate tool--you'll just be putting your life (and possibly others) at risk. Instead, get out of the house immediately.

Extinguisher Types

Not all fire extinguishers are the same. Some are designed to put out fires involving wood or cloth, for example, while others are designed to put out fires involving flammable liquids. Manufacturers use a standard letter-based code to identify these different fire types:

  • Type A: for ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, trash, and other ordinary materials
  • Type B: for flammable liquids and gases such as gasoline, oils, paint lacquer, and grease
  • Type C: for fires involving live electrical equipment
  • Type D: for fires involving combustible metals
  • Type K: for fires involving hot cooking oils

All fire extinguishers are labeled with one or more of these fire type letters. The best all-around choice for the home is generally the ABC type, which can effectively handle type A, B, and C fires. Never use an extinuisher on a type of fire the unit is not designed for--this is not only ineffective, but can make sometimes make the fire worse.

Extinguisher Size

Fire extinguishers come in different sizes. Bigger is better, but be sure you and others in your home can easily handle the unit. A good compromise is a 5 lb. unit, which is light enough to handle but packs plenty of punch. The label will indicate a number rating in addition to the fire-type letter--these numbers signify the fire-fighting capacity of the unit. For example, a typical 5 lb. ABC extinguisher might be rated "2A:10B:C," which means it has the same effectiveness as 2.5 gallons of water on a type A fire and can extinguish a type B or C fire of ten square feet.

When shopping for a quality extinguisher, make sure the label shows that it was tested by an independent laboratory such as "Underwriters Laboratory" (UL) or "Factory Mutual" (FM). It's also best to look for trigger/nozzel mechanisms made of metal rather than plastic.

How to Use an Extinguisher

Before using an extinguisher make sure there's an escape route behind you in case the fire gets out of hand quickly. Also make sure you have the right type of extinguisher.

To operate the unit, remember this simple acronym: PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep).

  • Pull the pin at the top of the cylinder.
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze or press the handle.
  • Sweep the contents from side to side at the base of the fire until it goes out.

If the fire is extinguished, watch carefully for any rekindling until the fire department arrives. If not, get out of the house.

Some models require you to unlatch a safety mechanism before pulling the pin--read the instructions that come with your unit carefully.

Regularly check the gauge on the extinguishers in your house to ensure the unit is full--if it isn't, immediately have it recharged or replace it.

Placing Extinguishers in Your Home

Here's a good strategy for placing extinguishers in your home:

  • an ABC unit in the kitchen
  • an ABC unit in the garage and/or workshop
  • an ABC unit in the basement

for extra safety, consider adding these as well:

  • an ABC or A unit in an upstairs bedroom
  • an ABC or A unit in the living room
  • an ABC or A unit in the attic

Check the condition of your extinguishers on a reglular basis, and make sure everyone in the home knows where they are and how to use them.

If you have further questions please contact us.


Stay Warm & Safe: Home Heating Safety

Wood Burning | Oil-fired Furnaces and Boilers Portable Heaters | Carbon Monoxide | Top 10 Tips for Heating Safety

Don’t Let the Fire You Want Turn Into One You Don’t

Now that the leaves are falling and the air is getting that wintry chill, there’s nothing like building a cozy fire in the fireplace or woodstove. And with heating oil over $3.00 a gallon, you may be eager to haul in that old stove from the garage and put it to work. But stop and think for a minute: when was the last time your chimney flue was cleaned? Has it been inspected this fall? If not, your cozy little fire might just erupt into a blazing inferno that could burn your house to the ground.

Chimney fires are just one of many hazards that accompany the seemingly simple matter of heating your home. Furnaces, boilers, baseboard heaters, and especially space heaters all pose potentially life-threatening risks to you and your loved ones, not to mention your property. Every winter home heating-related accidents send Mainers to the hospital—or worse—yet most of these accidents can easily be avoided. Here are some simple suggestions for ensuring you and your family stay warm and safe this winter.

Only a Fool Keeps a Dirty Flue

Chimney fires are more common than you might think; since 2003, Maine has averaged over 500 chimney fires every year—that means an average of over two each and every day during heating season. Chimney fires generally happen when creosote, a sticky black byproduct of wood smoke, accumulates on the inside walls of a chimney flue to the point where the creosote ignites from a spark or ember. The resulting fire can be extremely hot (up to 2000 degrees) and can quickly destroy your chimney or, worse, spread to your roof or the house framing adjacent to the chimney.

Avoiding chimney fires isn’t hard—just have your chimney regularly inspected and cleaned to ensure that dangerous levels of creosote never build up in your flue (a buildup of creosote 1/8” or thicker is hazardous). Have a professional inspect your chimney annually (look in the phone book under “Fireplaces” or “Chimney Builders and Repairers”). In addition to spotting a dirty flue, a yearly inspection will detect any structural problems that require attention, such as cracks, holes, or obstructions. If you burn wood regularly you should also do a quick visual check of your chimney flue periodically throughout the winter (if you burn daily, this could be as often as twice a month). The easiest way to check is to reach into the flue with a powerful flashlight and compact mirror from the cleanout door at the bottom of your chimney. If you see a black coating of creosote 1/8 inch thick or greater on the walls of your flue, it’s time to clean. Don’t forget to clean any stove pipe too. There are several professional chimney sweeps in the area listed in the phone book under “chimney cleaning"--you can also locate a local sweep on the Chimney Safety Institute of America's website (www.csia.org).

Burn No Wood Before Its Time

You can greatly reduce the amount of creosote that accumulates in your chimney by burning seasoned wood. Generally speaking, properly seasoned firewood has been split and dried for at least 6 months (depending on a variety of factors—oak, for example, can take as long as 2 years), so that its moisture content drops below 20%. Ideally, you should burn wood that was cut and split the previous winter. Hardwood like oak, ash, or maple produces less creosote than softwood, such as pine or spruce. Another important way to reduce creosote buildup is to avoid slow, smoldering, low-temperature fires. A brisk fire burns cleaner and produces much less creosote (but be careful not to overfire!). If your wood stove has a secondary combustion process (required in new stoves since the 1980s), read the instructions carefully or talk to your dealer to ensure you know how to operate it properly. Modern efficient woodstoves create minimal creosote if they’re used correctly. Burning seasoned wood not only reduces creosote, it also gives you “more bang for the buck” because it produces more heat than green wood.

Handling a Chimney Fire

If you ever experience a chimney fire (your first clue will likely be a loud roaring sound, but it could also be smoke in the house, hot brick or wall, or the sight of flames at the top of your chimney), immediately get everyone in the building out safely and call 911. If it’s possible to do so without endangering yourself, close the damper on a wood stove and shut the air intake all the way. With a fireplace, putting wet newspaper on the fire can send steam up the flue to help suppress the chimney fire. But your first priority should always be getting everyone safely out and calling 911—the sooner the fire department arrives, the less damage there’s likely to be.

Furnace and Boiler Safety

Although oil-fired furnaces and boilers aren’t susceptible to creosote buildup, it’s still important to have a professional check your system thoroughly at the start of every heating season and whenever you suspect trouble. If at any time you smell raw fuel, call for service immediately and call 911 (if you smell leaking propane, evacuate the house and call 911) —a leaking tank or fuel line can be a serious hazard. Also, be absolutely sure that your furnace doesn’t share the same flue with a woodstove, a fireplace, or any other vented appliance. This can create a very dangerous situation.

Space Heater Caution

If you use portable space heaters in your home, be extremely careful. Never leave a portable heater operating unattended, even for a short time. If the heater is electric, make sure the cord and plug aren’t damaged in any way, and if you use an extension cord make sure it’s rated to handle the current indicated on the heater (in general, the extension cord should be at least as thick as the heater cord). If the heater is kerosene-fueled, never refill without letting it cool first. It’s also important to store kerosene and any other flammable or combustible liquids outside the house—and take the heater outside before refilling. Finally, be extra careful to keep anything combustible well away from the heater (at least 3 feet away)—a curtain, bedspread, towel, or other combustible item can easily ignite from the radiant heat.

Carbon Monoxide

Many people don’t realize that one of the most dangerous hazards during heating season is something you can’t see, smell, hear, or feel—carbon monoxide (CO). All combustion appliances, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, woodstoves, propane hot water heaters, kitchen ranges, ovens, monitor heaters, and space heaters, produce carbon monoxide, an invisible, odorless, and potentially lethal gas. If any of these appliances are not properly vented, or have even a small leak, your house could be slowly filling with carbon monoxide. Mild CO poisoning sometimes produces flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and chronic fatigue—at higher levels, carbon monoxide causes unconsciousness and death. Every home should have at least one CO alarm installed near the sleeping area to alert you to a problem before it’s too late—particularly at night, when you’re most vulnerable.

Smoke Alarms

Finally, fall is the perfect time to change the batteries in your smoke alarms and test them to be sure they’re operating properly. This is the single most important thing you can to protect everyone in your house.

Top Ten Tips for Heating Safety

  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually
  • Visually check your chimney flue regularly throughout the season and clean when necessary
  • Keep combustibles at least 3 feet from any heat source
  • Never leave portable heaters unattended
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm near your bedroom
  • Have your furnace checked by a professional before every heating season
  • Never use your oven as a heat source
  • Dispose of ashes carefully in a metal container stored outside the home
  • Use 24 gauge steel or heavier for stovepipe (never use galvanized metal) and secure all connections with sheet metal screws
  • Don’t store flammable liquids in room with heaters