Inspections Aim To Put Out House Fires Before They Begin

Inspections Aim To Put Out House Fires Before They Begin

4:54pm Jun 26, 2018
Firefighters work to prevent fire from spreading to adjacent structures in this 2007 file photo in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Corey Lowenstein)

Last year in North Carolina, there were 83 fire-related deaths. So far this year, there have already been 91, many of them in homes that lacked working smoke alarms. To combat this trend, last weekend The Office of State Fire Marshal organized a massive canvassing effort. Firefighters conducted free home inspections in neighborhoods across the state and installed thousands of smoke alarms.

In Winston-Salem, courtesy home evaluations like these happen year-round, and the city fire department provides smoke alarms at no cost for residents in need. But Winston-Salem Fire Department Senior Community Educator Sabrina Stowe says the rising death toll means that challenges remain. She spoke with WFDD’s David Ford.

Interview Highlights

On the higher number of fire-related deaths in 2018:

For me, it just indicates that we need to do more in terms of fire prevention. We need to do more educating to our public. We need to make sure that people are taking preventive measures and be more cautious about things.

The thing about fire is people just think that it will never happen to them because it has never happened to them. But it only takes one time to have a devastating effect on your life. So, what we try to do is to put more education into especially those areas that we call hot spots where we're seeing more fires. There may be language barriers where we have different people coming into communities that may not understand that there are fire codes or that there are fire prevention things that they need to consider. So, there are a lot of variables. And for the most part it's just people making mistakes.

On the most common mistakes people make regarding fire prevention:

It’s what we may consider common knowledge, but people just forget. They're leaving food on the stove; leaving curling irons turned on and leave the house—things that we know that we shouldn't do, but we get distracted. They’re leaving candles burning when they leave the room; leaving the bathroom fan on when they're leaving the home and not realizing that that wire could get burned out and ignite an electrical fire. They’re leaving clothes dryers on when they leave home; overloading circuits in an outlet. They are things that we know we shouldn't do, but we do because we've done it before and there's never been an issue.

What sorts of things are covered during the fire department’s home inspections?

The primary thing that they're going to look for is smoke alarms, because that is going to be the number one thing that people use to alert them to a fire. And we want to make sure that they're alerted and they're going to get out. We're looking to make sure that they have the correct number of smoke alarms. We install them based on what the city ordinance requires and what the National Fire Protection Association recommends as well. They indicate that smoke alarms should be in every bedroom. Inside the bedrooms there should be at least one immediately outside of the sleeping area and one on each level of the home, and that would include basements and attics as well.

Other fire prevention tips:

  • Make sure your house number is visible from the street for emergency responders to locate you.
  • Use extension cords only on a temporary basis.
  • Replace smoke detectors every 10 years. Install smoke detectors in every bedroom and in hallways.
  • Replace smoke detector batteries every six months. You can use the old batteries for toys, games and other devices. 
  • Vacuum the area around smoke detectors and vacuum dust from the openings. 
  • All combustible items (hand towels, oven mitts, etc.) should be kept at least one foot away from all cooking surfaces.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor. 
  • Identify which upstairs window you'd use for an emergency escape. Pick the window that's not blocked below by another home or by an AC unit. Keep a home escape ladder and test installing it and removing it so that you're familiar with it. 

Editor’s Note: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

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