Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Please, please, people, don't wait another day to check your home's fire safety

You may have heard of the horrible house fire in Stamford, Connecticut, that killed a grandfather and three young girls. Millions of our hearts go out to the survivors. I fear that some level of government will enact new "safety laws," which I don't deny will be borne of the best of intentions, but like any other government attempt at safety, they'll merely make people complacent with "good enough." It also opens the door into exactly how a government will enforce these rules. Inspections? Submitting photos?

There are basic rules about fire safety. I'm a strong believer that each room needs a smoke detector, including basements and garages. It may be too late by the time a hallway smoke detector picks up smoke from a bedroom. Test them every few months, and replace batteries every six months. A few extra dollars is well worth it here.

I'll never forget an article reprinted years ago in Reader's Digest that warned you can't rely on smoke to wake you up. One man woke up but found himself paralyzed from having already been deprived of oxygen.

Fire extinguishers. We keep a heavy-duty model in the kitchen, and a mid-sized model by the fireplace. Eventually they lose charge and must be replaced, but isn't it worth it? A small investment can save your life, or at least prevent bad property damage. Some years back, I came home to find my mother used the hand-held model we had in our old kitchen -- after she put the frying pan and its grease fire in the sink, then sprayed everything with water. Luckily the fire didn't spread beyond the sink, allowing her to use the fire extinguisher. Some baking soda, and putting the cover on the pan, would have done just fine.

I personally prefer battery-operated smoke detectors. I don't trust that wired detectors will always have power, when an alkaline battery will last well beyond the recommended six months. The exception seems to be AC-powered, interconnected detectors that are mostly found in newer houses, but I say again that you're trusting a lot in uninterrupted power.

I went out and purchased carbon monoxide detectors immediately after hearing of Weird Al Yankovic's parents. There are models that detect both smoke and CO, and a few dollars more can buy one with a digital display. It makes me feel much better to run the fireplace with our Kidde reading a flat zero.

The real tragedy of the Stamford fire is that, as is currently reported, burning embers were placed outside. Never leave anything burning unattended, even if you're awake, even if you're sure the fire can't spread. Charlie once told me about adults at a Boy Scouts camp, real idiots who wanted to keep the coals live overnight so a fire would be easy to start in the morning! Good lord, didn't those turd-brained imbeciles ever read the Boy Scouts Handbook? It's a poor Scout who doesn't learn that if you're not attending to the fire, you can't trust it to stay controlled. By contrast, I once went to a camp where our Eagle-badged hike leader was later fired. I wasn't feeling well from a higher-altitude hike, and a friend walked back with me. But the rule was firm: the leader was responsible for us and was not to leave us alone. That was a good camp.

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