The Burning Question: Are You Doing All You Can to Be Fire-Safe?

It’s been a really busy summer, and I’m looking forward to the chilly days and the opportunity to relax a bit. As the cool weather is setting in, my thoughts are turning to lighting up the fireplace and getting cozy with a warm cup of cocoa and a great book. There’s nothing better than the first few weeks of fall in Minnesota and enjoying the warmth of a fire. But wait a minute—is there anything that I should be doing to make sure I am fire-safe?

September was National Preparedness Month (the 2018 theme was: Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.), and now, October 7–13 is National Fire Prevention Week. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), it has sponsored the public observance of Fire Prevention Week since 1922. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance, making it the longest-running public health observance in our country. The Chicago 1871 video on the organization's website is a sobering reminder of lives lost and property destroyed.

In 2017, 21 catastrophic fires resulted in 150 fatalities, topped by a series of historic California wildfires that killed 44 people. Read the NFPA Journal's archives "Catastrophic Multiple Death Fires in 2017" for more information on these recent fires.

Visit the National Fire Protection Association web page for lots of information on fire safety for work and home.

The 2018 NFPA campaign is “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.”

  • LOOK: Look for places fire could start. Take a good look around your home. Identify potential fire hazards and take care of them.
  • LISTEN: Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm. You could have only minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Go to your outside meeting place, which should be a safe distance from the home and where everyone should know to meet.
  • LEARN: Learn two ways out of every room and make sure all doors and windows leading outside open easily and are free of clutter.
  • BE AWARE: While children younger than 5 and adults older than 65 are at the highest risk for injury or death in a fire, people of all ages are vulnerable. In fact, the risk of a nonfatal fire injury is highest for those between 20 and 49, showing that fire-safety education is essential for everyone. Additional risk factors include race, socio-economic status, education level, and geographic location.

Fire Safety at Home

NFPA has some great free resources available for the home and community. Here are a few examples:

  • Games and Apps: Who wouldn’t want to play the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms app?
  • Safety Tip Sheets: Have a plan, especially for those who may need assistance. Take a look at Home Safety for People with Disability. Or how about things to think about when traveling in Hotel and Motel Safety. For those at college, take a look at Campus Fire Safety. Heating Safety has information on space heaters and fire places. Fire Safety in Manufactured Homes has information unique to this type of home. Information on how to create an emergency escape plan can be found in Escape Planning.
  • Public education materials are available, such as Home Fire Safety.
  • Fire Facts: Did you know:
    • On average, seven people per day die in U.S. home fires?
    • Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a reported home fire in half?
    • While 71% of Americans have an escape plan in case of a fire, only 47% of them have practiced it?
    • Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Easter, and Christmas?

Other Great Resources

What about Fire Safety at Work and in the Laboratory?

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace fires and explosions kill 200 people and injure more than 5,000 workers each year, and they cost businesses more than $2.3 billion in property damage. Explosions and fires account for 3% of workplace injuries and have the highest casualty rate of all probable workplace accidents.

Below are some resources you may find useful:

Wow, that’s a lot of information on fire safety and emergency preparedness. Keep in mind, this is just a sampling of many wonderful resources available, so take a look through the items that relate to your work and personal time and learn about ways to take safety into your own hands.

Okay, I just threw a load of clothes into the dryer, but before I grab that new book I have been wanting to read, I think I’m going to schedule a chimney flue inspection and cleaning, make sure my cat doesn’t walk across my gas stove while I’m heating my cocoa, check the batteries in my smoke detectors, and schedule our family’s annual evacuation drill (if I can find them).

Hoping you all stay warm and safe in the cooler weather.

Pat Hlavka (@pathlavka)

Pat Hlavka

Pat Hlavka is a Safety Coordinator in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. She received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an M.S. degree in Safety from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Pat worked as a safety professional in the industrial setting (IBM and Benchmark Electronics) for over 15 years. Since joining the Mayo Clinic in 2008, her responsibilities have focused on laboratory safety including the safety audit program, developing and maintaining documentation, training, communications, awareness, incident investigation, laboratory safety committees, and emergency management.