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Sure Fire Ways To Stay Safe

Summer really brings the heat, and so do unexpected accidents that suddenly turn deadly if proper fire safety is not followed.  A recent incident involving a colleague of mine reminded all of us here at Mercer County Library System just how important fire safety is and why we should make sure to pay attention to the simple steps we can take to keep ourselves, our families, our pets, and our property safe this summer and year-round.

The particular incident involved a seemingly small and innocent thing that can easily be overlooked – properly closing off natural gas appliances.  In this case, a stove burner was left slightly on after cooking dinner – enough to release gas, but not enough to fully burn, which produces carbon monoxide.  Fortunately, my colleague had a carbon monoxide detector placed in an appropriate location and was woken by it in time to get out and save her husband and dog in the process.  Her husband was one of about 50,000 Americans who will spend time in the hospital this year with carbon monoxide poisoning.  About 430 Americans will not be lucky enough to make it to the hospital.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, CO poisoning is preventable with properly placed, functional CO detectors. Make sure to place detectors in locations to do the most good – near your living space.  Sure, you can place one in a basement near the furnace, dryer, and water heater, but you also want one near your bedroom since most people will not hear the alarm if it is distant.  One where you are spending the most time, living rooms or dens are good locations, will alert you if the air near you becomes dangerous.  The CDC also recommends getting all gas and oil-fired appliances checked each year by a qualified technician.

Like CO detectors, every home should have a working smoke detector.  According to the U.S. Fire Administration branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, three out of every five house fire deaths occur in a home without a working smoke detector.  Much like the CO detector (note, some models can detect both), working smoke detectors should be placed strategically around your home to detect an issue before it is too late.  Again, you want one near appliances that can catch fire or by the garage or electrical breaker as well as in the sleeping area of your home.

Electricity is also a point of concern when it comes to fire safety.  Most people would be surprised to hear that only half of the 45,000 home electrical fires each year are caused by wiring or lighting.  The rest are preventable if you follow a few basic guidelines – never overload an extension cord or surge protector, do not use extension cords or surge protectors daisy chained (one plugged into another), do not use extension cords or surge protectors in place of real wiring to create an “extra” outlet, only plug one heat-producing appliance (mostly all kitchen appliances, including coffee pots) into an outlet at a time and plug them directly into an outlet (as opposed to an extension cord or surge protector), and make sure any home electrical work is done by a qualified electrician.

Some additional safety tips for inside the home can be found on the U.S. Fire Administration’s website and are arranged by topic and audience.  One tip is a reminder to have a working fire extinguisher in at least the kitchen and garage – make sure it is properly charged by periodically checking the gauge to see if it is still in the green zone.  Extinguishers can be recharged or sometimes even exchanged - check with your local fire authority or home improvement center for more information.  The Mercer County Fire Academy has a resource list of local fire departments and fire safety websites that can help you contact your local officials.  Another important tip we offer from the library’s information technology department is to make sure to use surge protectors and not just power strips on computer equipment and other common household items such as TVs.  You should also be sure to check them periodically to make sure they are still functioning properly – a good one will have a fault indicator light (not just the power on/off lighted switch) that will trip the unit or at least turn red if protection is not in place.

Outside the home is just as important as inside, especially during the summer.  The obvious items of most concern are grills and fire pits, which should always be covered, attended to, and kept away from play areas or structures when in use.  The majority of grill fires involve either liquid or gas, so it is important to make sure the lines from a propane tank are clear and you only apply lighter fluid to bricks prior to lighting, not after the fire has been started.  Fireworks can be especially tempting this time of year and it is of course best to follow all local guidelines prohibiting aerial fireworks.  Ground-based items such as sparklers can burn up to 1200 degrees, so supervision of children and instruction on how to hold the sparkler should be exercised at all times.  FEMA does have an outdoor fire safety sheet that offers further tips.

Other outdoor safety tips include respecting electricity and use caution with electrical items such as radios or speakers, even cell phones, near water such as pools or at the beach.  Did you know Smokey the Bear aims to do more then prevent forest fires?  The government-run site for this safety icon includes tips about backyard burning, safely using lawn care equipment, and of course, campfires (tips that also apply to fire pit safety and even fireplaces).

Lastly, remember to start early when teaching children proper fire safety.  Awareness and planning are key to keeping kids safe and calm if they do find themselves in a house fire or while playing near a fire, such as a fire pit, grill, or fireplace.  Plus, many good habits are easier to continue as an adult if they are learned as a child.  The Burn Institute has a fire safety program with an excellent website geared toward kids.  In addition to fire prevention, there are sections regarding burn and scald prevention.  Of course our youth services departments can also point you toward books and videos that are age-appropriate for teaching children of all ages about fire prevention.  Our catalog lists over fifty items in the system on the subject for younger readers.  Also look for your local fire company in the community each October – it is fire prevention month and they often run programs, some in our libraries, to teach kids about fire prevention and safety.

- Laura N., IT Department

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