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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.

Fall is Here, and That Means More and More People Will Be Heading for Their Thermostats

Many of the fire hazards that threaten modern households are in and around your home right now.  Whether it's a poorly maintained heating system, or an accident in the kitchen, it's not terribly surprising that the American Red Cross warns of increased risks of house fires during the fall and winter season.

Check Your Heating System

October is perfect time to kick the tires on your home's heating system.  After six 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 you furnace free of clutter and combustible material; never set items on top of 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.

Have a Safety/Escape Plan and Practice It

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

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 its 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 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 the Smoke Alarms and Fire Extinguishers

Fall and spring are great times to get into the habit of checking you smoke alarms for functionality.  Turning back the clocks in fall is a great reminder to test your smoke alarms.  Replace any batteries if 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

Homes should be equipped with carbon monoxide 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). They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

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 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.
  • 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.

Wildfire Season and the Great Outdoors

Many Pennsylvanians like to spend time outdoors and when Autumn rolls around, we are that much keener to take in the sights.   Whether enjoying a firepit in our backyards, getting some late season grilling in, or even decorating for/participating in the holidays, we have some useful tips for you.

  • Before using a firepit or building a campfire, be sure it is permitted; check with your local fire department.
  • Avoid burning on windy, dry days – as leaves fall, forested areas dry much quicker, and become more vulnerable to wildfires.
  • Never use gasoline or other combustible liquids; fires should be kept small and easily controlled.
  • Grills should be kept clean, and free of debris and grease build up.  They should be set up several feet away from a home, and never be used indoors.
  • Avoid using open flame candles to decorate for holidays.  Consider using battery operated lights in jack-o-lanterns and paper-lanterns. 
  • Halloween costumes should be made with flame resistant materials.  Avoid costumes that are big and billowy.  Masks, and face paints should not obscure a one's vision.

Learn More

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