Fire Safety While You Sleep
Updated: July 15, 2019
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), 80% of all fire deaths in North America are the result of home fires. And according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 51% of all deaths from residential fires occur from 11 pm to 7 am, when most people are sleeping. And because most house fires are preventable, we felt that it's important to share as much helpful information as we can to help you and your family to stay safe.
Source: International Association for Fire Safety Science
Table of Contents
Fire Safety Facts
- FEMA found in in 2017 that 3,400 Americans died in fires and over 14,670 were injured.
- It takes less than 30 seconds for a small flame to turn into a major fire. In 5 minutes a fire can get so hot that everything in the room ignites at once, which is called a scorchover.
- Fires start bright, but quickly produce black smoke and can make it impossible to see and make you lost in your own house.
- Fire's heat is a killer as inhaling super hot air (which can get to 600 degrees or more) can scorch your lungs and burn skin.
- The smoke and toxic gas kill more people than flames. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths with 3 deaths from inhaling smoke to every 1 death from burns. Breathing in even small amounts of smoke and toxic gas can make you drowsy, disoriented, and short of breath.
- According to the American Red Cross, home fires are most common in December and January, and on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Children under 5 and adults over 65 are most likely to die in a home fire.
What are the Most Common Causes of Fires?
According to FEMA, the 7 most common causes of fires are:
- Cooking - 50.3%
- Heating (such as furnaces, hot water heates, etc.) - 9.6%
- Carelessness - 6.6%
- Electrical malfunction (damaged cords, overloading outlets, etc.) - 6.5%
- Open flame (bonfires, fireplaces, candles, etc.) - 4.3%
- Arson - 4.2%
- Appliances - 3.6%
Where Do Most Fires Start?
- Kitchen - the most common cause is the stove.
- Bedroom - many bedroom fires start due to smoking in bed.
- Chimney - the buildup of creosote on the inside of chimneys is flammable and causes many fires.
- Living room - common causes of fires in the living room include smoking, sparks from the fireplace lighting nearby objects such as blankets or a Christmas tree.
- Laundry room - lint buildup inside of the dryer is the most common cause of laundry room fires.
- Outside - grills that are too close to flammable materials such as overhanging trees and decks are the cause of most outside fires.
- Attic - FEMA states that the leading cause of attic fires is electrical malfunction.
The Most Important Steps in Fire Security
There are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself and your family from fire, but there are two things that are the most important (one is free and the other isn't cheap).
Close Your Bedroom Door
The number one thing you can do to increase fire safety while you sleep is close your bedroom door. According to the Underwriter Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI), when a fire spreads, a closed door will keep a room under 100 degrees. An open door can cause the room to heat up over 1,000 degrees. Closing the door prevents feeding the fire with oxygen. In fact, it's recommended that if you have to leave your home due to a fire, close your doors if possible to slow the spread. Metal door handles can be extremely hot during a fire, so it's recommended to push them closed with your feet (with shoes on).
The FSRI's "Close Your Door" initiative was the result of over 10 years of research. Closing your door not only reduces the ability of the fire to spread but also reduces toxic smoke levels, improves oxygen levels, as well as decreases temperatures. And because of synthetic materials, furniture, and construction, fire spreads faster than before. 40 years ago, you had on average 17 minutes to escape. Now it's 3 minutes.
Home Fire Sprinkler System
Though it may be cost-prohibitive for many people, installing a home sprinkler system can save lives. According to the NFPA, home sprinkler systems reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by 80% and fire damage by 97%. Smoke detectors are very important, but they do nothing to suppress a fire. Home sprinklers will both alert you, help suppress the fire, and give you and your family valuable to time to get out of the house if need be. California, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. require all new one and two family homes to have sprinkler systems.
Consider that you have on average 3 minutes to get all of your family members out of the house once a fire starts, and that if you're in the deep sleep phase of sleep where many people will take a while to wake up to the sound of the smoke detector. And if you're a deep sleeper, or if you've been drinking that night or really tired, your decision-making skills and reaction times once you wake up to a smoke alarm may be slower than normal, which reduces the amount of time you have to get your family out. And it's possible that even if you test your smoke alarms every month, the batteries can die in between testings. Home sprinkler systems give you a powerful additional layer of protection.
If you have someone living in your house who isn't mobile (the very young, old, bedridden, and wheelchair users), and can't escape quickly even if they hear a smoke alarm, a sprinkler system is a really smart option.
Home sprinklers work by activating when the air temperature above fire rises. They also emit a loud sound alerting occupants.
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Cost vs. Benefit of Home Sprinkler
The drawback of a home sprinklers is the cost. According to the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the average cost of a home sprinkler system is $1.35/square foot.
- 1,000 sq. ft. home=$1,350
- 2,000 sq. ft. home=$2,700
- 3,000 sq. ft. home=$4,050
Home sprinklers aren't cheap, but when you consider the benefits, they make a lot of sense:
- saves lives
- reduce the amount of toxic gas created by synthetic items that have caught fire
- reduce the amount of smoke damage to your home
- reduce property loss on average by 70%
- use 400x less water than fire and emergency services, reducing damage to your home
- average reduced home insurance costs of 7%, and going as high as 13%
- 74% of U.S. homeowners consider a home with sprinklers more valuable
Myths About Home Sprinklers
- "Newer homes are safer and sprinklers aren't necessary." Newer homes in some ways are more dangerous because of their lightweight construction, furniture made of combustible materials, and their wide open spaces.
- "When one sprinkler goes off, all of them go off." 85% of the time only one sprinkler activates during a fire.
- "A little bit of smoke will activate the sprinkler and ruin items in the house." Sprinklers are activated by heat of between 135 and 160 degrees, not by smoke.
- "Home sprinklers are ugly and intrusive." You can get concealed sprinklers that are a flat plate that open up in the case of a fire. The sprinkler isn't visible and the average person would have no idea what it is.
Fire Prevention Tips
There are many things you can do to increase your fire safety while you sleep.
- Install smoke alarms in bedrooms and hallways throughout your home. 65% of home fire deaths occur in homes with no working smoke alarms. Make sure everyone in your home (especially children) knows how they sound and what to do when they hear it.
- Install both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms, or units with both.
- Test smoke alarms every month.
- Replace batteries in battery-powered and hard-wired smoke alarms at least once per year, unless you're using 10-year lithium batteries.
- Replace smoke alarms every 8 years, or according to the instructions.
- Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking.
- Use monitored smoke alarms in case of a fire when you're not home. A monitored smoke alarm will let a monitoring center know if there's a fire and alert emergency responders.
- Keep a fire extinguisher on every level of your home. As most home fires start in the kitchen, keep one in your kitchen that's not near the stove as if there's a fire, you may not be able to get to it. Also keep one in the garage, laundry room, and each bedroom. Make sure all of your family members know how to operate them, and know when to replace or recharge them.
- For grease fires, only use a fire extinguisher class B or baking soda. Don't use water at it will spread the fire.
- When cooking, don't wear loose-fitting clothes, and roll up your sleeves.
- Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove while cooking.
- Do a nightly check to make sure the stove is turned off, curlers and other appliances (such as irons) are turned off. Never use a stove to heat your home.
Fireplaces, Matches, Grills
- Keep matches out of reach of children.
- Keep flammable items away from anything that's hot, such as space heaters. This includes rags, chemicals, papers, and any other items that can easily ignite.
- Put barbecue grills at least 10 feet away from anything flammable, including nearby trees, siding, and wooden decks.
- The leading cause of home fire deaths in the US is smoking. Never smoke in bed, when tired or on medication, and only smoke outside (especially if someone in the home is on oxygen).
- Never leave a burning candle or incense unattended.
- Use a glass fireplace guard to prevent sparks coming out of your fireplace and igniting nearby carpets, blankets, or dog beds.
- Keep Christmas trees away from the fireplace.
- If your power goes out, use flashlights, the flashlight on your cell phone, or battery-operated candles for light, not candles.
- Don't run wires under rugs.
- Portable generators should never be used indoors.
- Use only lab-approved electric blankets.
- Turn off portable heaters when you go to sleep.
- Make sure your furnace and stove are in good working order. Have them checked periodically as many home fires are started by poorly maintained furnaces and stoves.
- Don't run your washer or dryer when you're not home in case there's an issue.
- Don't ever use frayed extension cords.
- Never overload outlets with multiple extension cords.
- If you have exposed wires or loose plugs, have an electrician take care of these issues.
- Have a fire escape plan with your family and practice it twice a year. Every family member can be assigned specific roles because you have on average 3 minutes to get out of your house. Ideally, every room should have 2 escape routes.
- Use quick release devices on barred windows and doors.
- Have a family emergency communication plan to make sure everyone know who to contact in case family members can't get in contact with each other.
- As part of your emergency fire plan, have a designated meeting place outside of your home to make sure that everyone is safe.
- Make sure your house number is readable from the street, especially at night.
Other Fire Prevention Tips
- Get your chimney cleaned regularly to prevent the buildup of creosote.
- Clean your home vents once per year as they can have a buildup of particles that are flammable.
- Dryer lint is the main cause of laundry room fires, so clean your dryer filter after each use.
- Replace mattresses made before the 2007 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard. Mattresses made since then are required to be more fire-resistant.
- Never leave a glass bowl on a wooden deck. The sun's rays can act as a magnifying glass and cause the wood to catch fire.
- Only use fireworks at a far distance from your home.
- Keep a flashlight in every room. If there's lots of black smoke in the house, it can be very difficult to see and it's common that people get lost in their own house. Flashlights can also be used to signal firefighters if you get pinned in a room and you're unable to get out.
Action Plan in Case of Fire
- If a fire occurs in your home, get out immediately and call for help. Once you're out, stay out.
- If there's a lot of smoke, stay low to the floor until you're out.
- If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll. If you can't, use a blanket or towel to smother the flames.
- If you see smoke or fire in your first escape route, use the second escape route.
- If you have to exit through smoke, crawl on the floor to get out as the air 6 feet off of the ground could be 500 degrees or more and the air near the floor could be 100 degrees.
- If you have to escape through a closed door, feel the door before you open it. Don't touch the handle first as metal can be very hot. If the door isn't warm, open it slowly. If the door is warm, use a secondary escape route.
- If all of your escape routes are blocked, place a rolled up towel under the door and keep the door closed and open a window. Then use a brightly colored fabric or flashlight to call for help.
- If you're on the second floor and you're trapped, exit through the window with bedding material you can use to break your fall if you have to jump.
- If you have to exit through a window and it won't open, break the glass and use bedding, towels, or clothes to line the inside edge of the window so you don't get cut when you exit.
- If you get burned, after you escape use cool water on the wound for 3-5 minutes, then cover with a clean, dry cloth until you receive medical attention.
- Check with the fire department to make sure it's safe to reenter your home.
- Don't reconnect utilities yourself. The fire department will let you know if they're safe to use.
- Contact a disaster relief organization such as the American Red Cross if you need temporary housing, food, or medicine.
- Contact your insurance company for instructions on how to conduct an inventory on your belongings. Don't throw away damaged items until after you make the inventory.
- Save your receipts for any money spent related to the fire, which you may need to provide to the insurance company.
- Let your mortgage company know about the fire.
Pet Fire Safety
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that nearly 1,000 fires are started every year by pets. Many of these fires can be prevented by taking a few precautions.
- Never leave open flames unattended, including candles and fireplaces. Cats are known to knock over candles with their tails.
- Remove stove knobs or cover them well when you leave the house, and don't leave food unattended on the stovetop. The stove is the number one way that pets start fires.
- Keep pets away from areas where they could start a fire.
- Secure loose wires that your pet may chew on which can cause fires.
- When you practice fire evacuations, take your pet with you. Make sure your dog is trained to come when you call. As cats aren't as responsive, know their hiding spots so you can find them quickly.
- Invest in a pet safety decal alert that you place in one of your front windows so firefighters can see how many pets and what kind of pets you have. It's also advised to keep pets near entrances so firefighters can find them more easily.
- Make sure their collars have updated contact information.
- Keep leashes, collars, and pet carriers near the exit. If you have to leave the house due to a fire, there will be chaos and it can be difficult to keep your animal from running away. Keep a familiar smelling blanket in the pet carrier to reduce your animal's stress if there's a stressful event such as a fire.
- If there's a fire and you can't find your animal, leave the house and leave a door open so they can escape.
- Have a bag of food ready in case of an emergency where they won't be able to eat for a while.
- If you can't stay in your home due to a fire, find out what local hotels accept pets. If you can't find a place for them, arrange a place to stay for your pets if pets aren't allowed where you'll stay.
Kid’s Fire Safety
According to FEMA, children set 35,000 fires annually. There are several reasons that children will experiment with fire. Many are curious about fire, while for others it can be a sign of deeper issues such as a cry for help, thrill-seeking, mental or emotional issues, or a willful intent to cause destruction.
Kid's Fire Safety Facts
According to the NFPA:
- Younger children tend to find a hiding spot inside the house (a closet, under a blanket, or a place that they won't easily be discovered) to play with a lighter or matches
- Older children tend to experiment with fire outdoors
- In 50% of the fires started by children, lighters were the source of the fire
- 83% of home fires and 93% of outside fires are started by males
- 40% of fires started by children happen in their bedroom
- Between 2005 and 2009 it's estimated that fires started by children have caused $286 million per year in direct property damage with 110 civilian deaths
There are a few things that parents can do to prevent their children from playing with fire.
- Hide all matches, lighters, and any other firestarters. It's best to keep these items locked away.
- Educate your children about the dangers of playing with fire, including harm to themselves, their pets, home, and family. Tell them to give to you any matches or lighters that they find.
- Practice stop, drop, and roll if any part of their clothes catch fire, as well as crawling on the floor in case there's smoke in the house.
- Make sure they know the sound of the smoke alarm and what they need to do, as well as the 2 escape routes from each room in the house.
- Include them in fire emergency training. Depending on their age, you can give them a specific job so they can feel they're part of keeping your home and family safe.
- Teach your children not to hide from firefighters.
How to Do Home Fire Drills with Your Children
Have everyone go to their rooms and wait for the sign. You go to a smoke alarm and test it, and press start on your stopwatch. It's everyone's job to get out of the house in under 2 minutes safely, and meet in a previously agreed upon meetup spot that's not too close to your home, but still on your property. Once you get to the meetup spot, simulate calling 911. If anyone has specific jobs, such as getting any animals out of the house, make sure they did their job.
You can then do a second round which is practicing what to do in case there's lots of black smoke in the house. As the smoke and heat is much worse at standing height, member practice crawling out of the home. If it takes any member more than 2 minutes, try again.
It's also a good idea to practice fire drills when it's dark.
Other good things to review are:
- the 2 exits from every room in the house
- discuss fire safety facts, such as where most fires start, and then go through your house and ask them to look for potential fire starters (such as the Christmas tree to close to the fire, or a towel too close to the stove)
- quiz them about whether it's safer to keep bedroom doors open or closed
- if they're old enough, you could simulate using a fire extinguisher, and review where all of your fire extinguishers are stored
- stop, drop, and roll if any part of their clothes catch on fire
If you have younger children, you can take turns with who presses the smoke alarm, or who starts the timer. You could also give prizes for who gets out of the house the fastest (but still safely), or to everyone who makes it out in less than 2 minutes.