Should a fire begin in your home, Windsor Fire Chief Prevention Officer John Lee has two words of advice: “Get out.”
Personal safety comes first in Lee’s eyes, who says that there is often so little time when a fire ignites that making an escape, followed by a 9-1-1 call, should be a person’s first plan of action.
And that includes potentially ignoring the fire extinguisher you may have at the ready in the kitchen – especially if you haven’t learned how to use one.
“I really don’t recommend fire extinguishers – I’d prefer that people just got out,” says Lee. “You have eight seconds with those small extinguishers and they’re done. So, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ve never used one before and its more fire than the extinguisher can contain, they’re not worth it.”
He says most portable extinguishers are designed for a particular use.
“Portable fire extinguishers are designed for use with small, contained fires like a garbage pail,” Lee says.
Extinguishers aren’t good for handling grease fires, either, says Lee.
“We have a ‘Put On A Lid’ campaign for grease fire,” says Lee. “You cover the fire with a lid, you smother it and you take it off the heat.
“If you put water on it or even an extinguisher and spray it in, you’re going to spread the fire – and possibly on yourself.”
Lee also says there can be the added complication of the chemical spewing from the extinguisher itself.
“It is an irritant,” he notes. “If you get it into your eyes or inhale it – it creates respiratory issues.”
IF YOU’RE STILL INTENT ON OWNING A FIRE EXTINGUISHER
Did you know there are three classes of fire extinguishers in Canada – and that each has a different function?
A Class “A” extinguisher takes care of such common flammables as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, plastic and trash.
A Class “B” extinguisher is used for oil, paints and solvents – combustible liquids.
A Class “C” extinguisher is best utilized for electrical equipment: fuses, wiring, appliances and motors.
Each extinguisher is labeled with the letters “A”, “B”, “C” or a combination thereof to identify the types of fires they extinguish.
If there is a number in front of the letter, the greater the number indicates the more powerful the extinguisher in terms of putting out the fire.
If you are still intent on getting an extinguisher for your single-family dwelling, Windsor Fire’s John Lee suggests a combo one.
“An ABC dry chemical is recommended for fire extinguishers if being purchased for a residence.”
THE FIVE-FOOT RULE
If a fire occurs, the general rule is to stand five feet away with extinguisher in hand and follow the National Fire Protection Association’s four-step PASS procedure:
1. P – Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointed away from you.
2. A – Aim at the base of the fire
3. S – Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly to discharge the firefighting chemical. The fire may flare up briefly once the chemical makes contact – this is to be expected.
4. S – Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side, moving carefully toward the fire. Keep the aim low.
As for other forms of protection – like fire blankets – Lee carries the same viewpoint as he does in his concern for fire extinguishers.
“If you don’t know how to use it properly, you are wasting time to escape,” Lee says. “The time to escape once an alarm activates is very brief and people should exit the building as soon as the alarm activates.
“Our general message is “Get out and Stay Out”, do not re-enter, do not extinguish the fire and call 911.
PLANNING ESCAPE ROUTES
Speaking of escape, A&A Insurance’s Amy Lynne Armstrong says families should hold meetings to plan exit strategies and safe meeting spots outside the home at least twice a year.
“The onus on safety is with the homeowner or rental occupants,” says Armstrong, adding that as far as insurance against fire is concerned, your home insurance policy covers such occurrences.
One of those safety measures includes – as required by law – to keep items a secure distance from a wood-burning appliance, your furnace and your water tank.
“You can’t be too careful,” cautions Armstrong.
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR PROPERTY
“A fire is devastating on so many levels, “says A&A Insurance’s Armstrong. “But if the worst happens, you could really help yourself out in the aftermath if you keep a list of all the items in your house or apartment.
“If you have electronic or big-ticket items, serial numbers, date of purchase and purchase price are always helpful, and I’d recommend taking photos or videos of the interior of your entire home and occasionally updating them.
“Keep that info off site – in a safe or in the cloud, because after such a tragedy, you will not remember everything you had. The recorded information will help support your claims and make the process go more smoothly.”
OTHER PREVENTATIVE MEASURES
For sure we recommend prevention – not leaving candles or cooking unattended, not leaving the home with a dryer or washing machine running.”
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
Are you a smoker? Then, take great care that your cigarette butt is fully extinguished in an ashtray before you properly dispose of it.
CTV Windsor reported that in October 2019, four of the five fire fatalities were caused by careless smoking.
“It’s typically the improper discarding of smoking materials, whether it’s in a garbage or an ashtray that gets tipped over by someone falling asleep that causes fires, “says Lee.
“We do get five or six fires a year where people are smoking and they’re on oxygen -and that creates a huge issue because of the vapours of the oxygen. Victims typically don’t make it – they already have COPD or some other reduced lung function and if the vapours ignite when they’re smoking, the burns are going to be in their throat.”
If all the residents in your home are non-smokers, A&A Insurance’s Armstrong says that certain carriers offer non-smoker discounts on home insurance.
If you own an open fireplace, purchase a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from rekindling your furniture. Also, make sure your flue is open before you light up your logs, or you’re setting yourself up for a smoke-filled room!
In fact, Lee says smoke causes more damage than both the flames and the water used to combat the fire.
“Smoke permeates through everything,” says Lee. “Particularly contents and computers. Typically, the smoke damage is worse…although sometimes, it’s water damage.”
The ugly truth, though, is that fires occur way too often – and a lot more often than they need to: In 2018 in Ontario alone, there were over 20,000 fires involving either structure, vehicles or outdoor, counting 81 fatalities and involving losses of $836.1 million, according to the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
The good news is that you can do your part to ensure that the many potential catalysts of a fire are held in check…and it’s easier than you think.
And if you have items damaged by smoke, there is still hope to salvage them.
CPC Windsor has an Ultrasonic Cleaning System and Esporta Wash System to clean, restore and recover clothes, carpets, bedding, sports equipment as well as computers, TVs, exercise equipment. They can even restore some photos, artwork and heirlooms that may have been damaged from smoke or water during a fire.
WHY IT’S NOT A BAD IDEA TO EXPAND YOUR LIABILITY COVERAGE
“If your actions cause a fire and the damage spreads to neighbouring homes, you could be held legally liable for that damage,” says A&A’s Amy Lynne Armstrong.
“This may be a good time to look at increasing your liability limit on your property, which is inexpensive and will provide you with peace of mind.
“Give us a call at A&A for a policy review and a quote.”
CONGRATS WINDSOR FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICES
Congratulations to Windsor Fire and Rescue Services, which recently was presented a plaque by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens for their efforts as front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our firefighters are used to facing danger in the execution of their duties,” Dilkens said in a press release. “But COVID-19 is a different kind of danger and stressor, and we truly appreciate how our fire department continues to keep our community safe.”
The award helped Windsor Fire and Rescue kick off Fire Prevention Month last October and a month of fire safety education activities.
The theme was “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen,” as the City of Windsor says cooking fires are the number one cause of local fires.
See our next blog in this Fire Prevention Series: