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Be Fire Safe PA

The Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner (OSFC) provides important year-round and seasonal fire prevention information to help Pennsylvanians stay safe and healthy.

Explore the below information to Be Fire Safe PA!

Winter Fire Safety

Fireplace with text "Be fire safe. Heating is the second leading cause of home fires."

When temperatures dip, Pennsylvanians turn to their home heating systems for warmth; it’s natural. Heating our homes, however, is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, deaths, and injuries.

December, January, and February are the most common months for heating fires.

Get Your Heating System Inspected

If you’re just starting to use your home heating system, it’s not too late to get it inspected. After 6 or more months of disuse, you’ll want to make sure everything is in proper working order.

There are a few things homeowners can do to ensure their heating systems are well maintained and safe to use:

  • Regularly replace furnace filters.
  • Keep areas around your furnace free of clutter and combustible material; never set items atop your furnace.
  • Likewise, keep combustible materials a safe distance from vent/exhaust lines.
  • Before winter arrives, turn your system on for a test run.
  • If you notice any issues with your home heating system, contact a professional immediately. Certified HVAC contractors often offer preventative care services that include cleaning that reduce fire risk but have the added benefit of reducing utility costs.

A Word on Supplemental Heat (Space Heaters)

Space heater and text "All heaters need space. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from heating equipement."

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), space heaters are the most often cited pieces of equipment in home heating equipment fires. They account for as many as 40 percent of incidents.

Here are some helpful tips to make sure you’re being fire safe:

  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters, or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
  • Install wood burning stoves following manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional do the installation. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
  • Install and maintain CO alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.

Fireplace Safety

Both modern and older fireplaces have a way of collecting dirt and debris over their lifetimes. It’s important to keep fireplaces clear of debris and schedule annual inspections to before use. If your home is equipped with a gas fireplace, have all the lines and connections inspected before use.

In addition to these recommendations, here are a few other helpful tips:

  • Fireplace screens, guards, or glass doors are helpful safety devices to keep hot ash and sparks contained inside the fireplace. Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
  • Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Spare wood, and other combustibles should be stored at least five feet away from the fireplace.
  • Do not overload a fireplace.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Burn seasoned hardwoods, that have been stored in a safe and dry environment for at least 6 months.

Burn Awareness

Burn injuries continue to be one of the leading causes of accidental death and injury throughout the country, and, according to the American Burn Association, disproportionately affect children, the elderly, and those with access and functional needs. Almost one-third of all burn injuries occur in children under the age of 15.

Following a few simple precautions will help keep you and your little chef safe from potential burns:

  • Create a No Child Zone (PDF) while preparing and serving hot foods and beverages.
  • Avoid carrying or holding a child while cooking or near the stove. Instead, place the child into a highchair or another safe area while cooking.
  • Children love to reach, so to prevent hot food or liquid spills, simply use the back burner of your stove and turn pot handles away from its edge; also, keep hot foods away from the edge of your counters.
  • Always supervise children in the kitchen and dining areas. Make sure they recognize objects (PDF) that can be hot and those are typically safe.

A scald injury can happen at any age. Children, older adults and people with disabilities are especially at risk. Hot liquids from bath water, hot coffee and even microwaved soup can cause devastating injuries. Scald burns are the second leading cause of all burn injuries.

Here are some tips to avoid scalds:

  • Cool a burn under cold running water for 10-15 minutes and call 9-1-1 for serious burns.
  • Keep clothing from coming in contact with flames or heating elements.
  • A small adjustment to your water heater can give you one less thing to worry about. To prevent accidental scalding, set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or the manufacturer’s recommended setting.
  • Make a habit of placing matches, gasoline, and lighters in a safe place out of children’s reach and avoid novelty lighters as they may look like toys in a child’s eyes.
  • When filling the bathtub turn on cold water first then mix in warmer water carefully.

Fire departments wishing to host community events can find ideas for activities (PDF).

Year-Round Fire Safety

Have a Plan and Practice It

Do you know what to do in the event your home catches fire? Does your family? This knowledge is critical to ensure everyone’s safety. From the moment a smoke alarm sounds, you and your loved ones may have just 2 minutes to respond, according to NFPA. 

Take the time to develop an evacuation plan. Families should have a designated meeting place a safe distance from their home, for instance, a mailbox. Everyone should be able to identify to points of escape from each room in the house. Its also a good idea to practice one’s emergency plan under challenging conditions, like when it is dark.

Make sure the kids understand how and when to dial 9-1-1. (They should also know their home’s physical address.) Teach them the stop, drop, and roll method for extinguishing fire, and when practicing one’s escape plan, teach them to crawl to avoid smoke.

Don’t forget about older adults. These individuals often have unique health challenges or mobility issues that make evacuation burdensome. Unsurprisingly, home fire fatalities disproportionately affect older adults.

Check Your Smoke Alarms and Fire Extinguishers

Smoke and CO alarms are vital to ensuring your family’s safety. Test these devices frequently (at least once a month) and replace any batteries when needed. 

If you have fire extinguishers in your home, they should be routinely checked to make sure they’re fully charged, and within their expiration dates.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Homes should be equipped with CO detectors. Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed.

The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

Keeping Safe in the Kitchen

Cooking fires are the number one cause of fires and home injuries. The leading cause for fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking. Don’t let a holiday or special occasion in the kitchen turn into a disaster:

  • Stay alert! If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stovetop.
  • Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food.
  • If you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the kitchen while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, or curtains — away from your stovetop.

If you have a cooking fire:

  • Just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire.
  • Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number after you leave.
  • If you try to fight the fire, be sure others are getting out and you have a clear way out.
  • Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
  • For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

Learn More

To learn more about fire prevention and safety, visit these websites and resources: