Instagram and Facebook graphics

Twitter and LinkedIn graphics


Learn About Fire

In just two minutes a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes a residence can be engulfed in flames.

  • Fire is FAST! In less than 30 seconds a small flame can turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house or for it to be engulfed in flames. (Note: Smoldering fires can fill a house up with smoke before any flames appear. One of the reasons that most people die from asphyxiation is that a smoldering fire occurs while they are sleeping. This is another reason to favor photoelectric alarms.)
  • Fire is HOT! Heat is more threatening than flames. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super-hot air will scorch your lungs and melt clothes to your skin.
  • Fire is DARK! Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness.
  • Fire is DEADLY! Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a 3-to-1 ratio.

Before a Fire

» Create and Practice a Fire Escape Plan

In the event of a fire, remember that every second counts. Escape plans help you get out of your home quickly. Twice each year, practice your home fire escape plan. Some tips to consider when preparing this plan include:

  • Find two ways to get out of each room in the event the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke.
  • A secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper-story windows.
  • Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and that security bars can be properly opened.
  • Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
  • Teach children not to hide from fire fighters.
  • Remember, if the smoke alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside. If everyone is outside, let the 911 operator know that ASAP. Otherwise, let the first responders know upon their arrival.
» Smoke Alarms

Working smoke alarms decrease the risk of dying according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). However, the same NFPA statistics have shown for many years that approximately 40% of fire victims die in fires with operating alarms and 20% die in fires with disabled alarms.

In addition, despite the increasing use of smoke alarms, as well as the gradual introduction of better alarms (e.g., hard-wired, 10-year batteries, interconnected) the fire death rate (deaths per thousand fires) has increased since 1980.

Fatal Fires in Which the Smoke Alarm Operates
While there are several reasons for why people die in fires when the smoke alarm operates, one may be that it may not provide adequate time to escape a fire.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Ionization detectors have been shown to sometimes fail to alarm in a smoldering fire even when visibility in the room is significantly degraded by smoke. Most photoelectric detectors alarm substantially sooner in these situations. In the NIST experiments the photoelectric detectors sensed smoldering fires on average 30 minutes earlier than the ionization detectors. The same study demonstrated that ionization detectors responded, on average, 50 seconds earlier than photoelectric detectors during flaming fire experiments.”1

Smoke Alarm Susceptibility for Nuisance Alarms
The same NIST Study cited earlier states the following, “Most field data suggest that ionization alarms have a greater propensity to nuisance alarm than photoelectric alarms, possibly indicating that certain activities such as cooking dominate reported nuisance alarms in the field.”2

A research paper on smoke alarms recommended that one way to reduce nuisance alarm rates was “encouraging use of photoelectric smoke alarms.”3

From an IAFF Resolution Passed in 20084:
“IAFF members should advocate for their mandatory requirement for placement and use of photoelectric alarms in fire and building codes, in a manner similar to recent legislation in Vermont and Massachusetts.”

From an IAFF Resolution Passed in 20205:
“The increase in the use of photoelectric technology, or alarms that pass the new 8th Edition UL217 Standard, have the potential to save hundreds of lives each year and should be promoted as the technology of choice by members of the IAFF in their home.

IAFF members should advocate for their mandatory requirement for placement and use of photoelectric alarms, or alarms that pass the new 8th Edition UL217 Standard, in fire and building codes.

IAFF members who currently have ionization smoke alarms should be replace them soon as possible with photoelectric or new 8th Edition UL 217 smoke alarms and if IAFF members currently have photoelectric smoke alarms they should replace them after 10 years with the new smoke alarms that have passed the UL217.”

Note: The new UL217, 8th Edition was originally passed in 2015. It effective date was extended twice and did not become effective until January 1, 2023. In late 2022, the NFPA 72 Committee voted to allow non-8th Edition alarms to be used until January 1, 2025.As a consequence, it is advised that current legislation that mandates photoelectric alarms be updated to include the new “multi-criteria” alarms  that are listed as resistant to cooking nuisance. The IAFF also wants to encourage members who investigate fires to collect data on the smoke alarms regarding type, location, etc. (this is required by NFPA 921).

If it is determined that occupants or fire fighters were injured because of a disabled alarm, or an alarm that operated too late, and any of the factors highlighted here may have been responsible, it should be documented in the narrative and forwarded to the CPSC

» Installation
  • Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.
  • On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.
  • Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.
  • Smoke alarms should be installed at least 20 feet from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking. This may not be possible in many cases due to the layout of the house or apartment. In those cases, locate it as far away as possible and, if less than 20 feet, consider using a photoelectric alarm as required by several states.
  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).
  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak).
  • Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
  • Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.
  • For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms. When one smoke alarm sounds they all sound. Interconnection can be done using hard-wiring or wireless technology.
  • When interconnected smoke alarms are installed, it is important that all of the alarms are from the same manufacturer. If the alarms are not compatible, they may not sound.
  • Keep manufacturer’s instructions for reference.
  • Smoke alarms should be maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button.
  • Make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. The instructions are included in the package or can be found on the internet.
  • Smoke alarms with non-replaceable, 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
  • Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
  • When replacing a battery, follow manufacturer’s list of batteries on the back of the alarm or manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturer’s instructions are specific to the batteries (brand and model) that must be used. The smoke alarm may not work properly if a different kind of battery is used.
» Smoke Alarm Safety for People With Access or Functional Needs
  • Audible alarms for visually impaired people should pause with a small window of silence between each successive cycle so that they can listen to the instructions or voices of others.
  • Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light are available for the hearing impaired. Contact your local fire department for information about obtaining a flashing or vibrating smoke alarm.
  • Smoke alarms with a strobe light outside the home to catch the attention of neighbors and emergency call systems for summoning help are also available.
» More Fire Safety Tips
  • Make digital copies of valuable documents and records like birth certificates.
  • Sleep with your door closed.
  • Contact your local fire department for information on training on the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers.
  • Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.

During a Fire

  • Crawl low under any smoke to your exit. Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
  • Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, or if there is smoke coming around the door, leave the door closed and use your second way out.
  • If you open a door, open it slowly. Be ready to shut it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present.
  • If you can’t get to someone needing assistance, leave the home and call 911 or the fire department. Tell the emergency operator where the person is located. If everyone is outside, let the 911 operator know that ASAP. Otherwise, let the first responders know upon their arrival.
  • If pets are trapped inside your home, tell fire fighters right away.
  • If you can’t get out, close the door and cover vents and cracks around doors with cloth or tape to keep smoke out. Call 9-1-1 or your fire department. Say where you are and signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll – stop immediately, drop to the ground, and cover your face with your hands.  Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. If you or someone else cannot stop, drop, and roll, smother the flames with a blanket or towel. Use cool water to treat the burn immediately for three to five minutes. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Get medical help right away by calling 9-1-1 or the fire department.
» Fire Escape Planning for Older Adults and People With Access or Functional Needs
  • Live near an exit. You’ll be safest on the ground floor if you live in an apartment building. If you live in a multi-story home, arrange to sleep on the ground floor and near an exit.
  • If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you get through the doorways.
  • Make any necessary accommodations – such as providing exit ramps and widening doorways – to facilitate an emergency escape.
  • Speak to your family members, building manager or neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them.
  • Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your special needs. Ask emergency providers to keep your special needs information on file.
  • Keep a phone near your bed and be ready to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if a fire occurs.

After a Fire

The following checklist serves as a quick reference and guide for you to follow after a fire strikes.

  • Contact your local disaster relief service, such as The Red Cross, if you need temporary housing, food and medicines.
  • If you are insured, contact your insurance company for detailed instructions on protecting your property, conducting inventory and contacting fire damage restoration companies. If you are not insured, try contacting private organizations for help.
  • Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter. Watch out for any structural damage caused by the fire.
  • The fire department should make sure that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself.
  • Conduct an inventory of damaged property and items. Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made.
  • Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss. The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company and for verifying losses claimed on your income tax.
  • Notify your mortgage company of the fire.

Prevent Home Fires

Home fires are preventable! The following are simple steps that each of us can take to prevent a tragedy.

» Cooking
  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time turn off the stove.
  • Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
  • Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of three feet around the stove.
  • Position barbecue grills at least 10 feet away from siding and deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
» Smoking
  • Smoke outside and completely stub-out butts in an ashtray or a can filled with sand.
  • Soak cigarette butts and ashes in water before throwing them away. Never toss hot cigarette butts or ashes in the trash can.
  • Never smoke in a home where oxygen is used, even if it is turned off. Oxygen can be explosive and makes fire burn hotter and faster.
  • Be alert – don’t smoke in bed! If you are sleepy, have been drinking or have taken medicine that makes you drowsy, put your cigarette out first.
» Electrical and Appliance Safety
  • Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately and do not run cords under rugs or furniture.
  • If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
  • Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker.
» Portable Space Heaters
  • Keep combustible objects at least three feet away from portable heating devices.
  • Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Check to make the portable heater has a thermostat control mechanism and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
  • Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene in kerosene heaters. Never overfill it. Use the heater in a well-ventilated room.
» Fireplaces and Woodstoves
  • Inspect and clean woodstove pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for damage or obstructions.
  • Use a fireplace screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
  • Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
» Children
  • Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
  • Store matches and lighters out of children’s reach and sight, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children unattended near operating stoves or burning candles, even for a short time.

More Prevention Tips

  • Never use a stove range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep combustible and flammable liquids away from heat sources.
  • Portable generators should NEVER be used indoors and should only be refueled outdoors or in well ventilated areas.