Division of Fire Prevention
State Fire Marshal Urges Kentuckians to be Aware of Home Fire Threats

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, December 21, 2010  
Contact Information:  Dick Brown or Ricki Gardenhire, 502-564-5525  

             “It can happen to you.” That’s the warning of Kentucky Fire Marshal Bill Swope, who is reminding Kentuckians of fire safety during the holiday season and throughout the cold weather months.

Since Dec. 3, Kentucky has experienced four home fires resulting in 10 deaths, including seven children. Preliminary investigations indicate that the use of portable heating units could be the cause in most of those fires, according to the Division of Fire Prevention in the Public Protection Cabinet.

Swope, director of the fire prevention division, is calling on families to take the time to identify fire hazards and put preventive measures in place to protect your family.

            “The one thing I’d like to hammer home to people is to have a fire escape plan and to practice it with all of the members of your household over and over again. The plan should include having smoke alarms with working batteries in the appropriate locations and properly using alternative and supplemental heating units.”

            Swope advises Kentuckians to plan escape routes by drawing a map of the home, identifying two ways to exit and choosing a location for everyone to meet outside the burning structure. Parents or other adults should have a plan to assist small children, the elderly and those with disabilities out of the home. Everyone should remember to stay close to the floor when escaping a burning home.

According to Swope, many fatalities and injuries could be avoided if residents would take these basic steps to protect themselves during house fires.  Besides having an evacuation plan, it is imperative to have operational smoke alarms throughout your home.

Proper placement of smoke alarms is also important.  Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, making sure there is an alarm outside every separate sleeping area.  Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings.  Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.

It is important to remember to change the batteries once a year.  Pick a day that is easily remembered to change the batteries in your smoke alarms. 

“People need to understand how little time they have to get to safety,” Swope said. “Just remember not to panic, and use your escape plan. If everyone took these basic steps, we could significantly reduce the deaths and injuries resulting from those fires.”

Cold Weather Fire Safety Tips for the Home

  • Make sure there is a working smoke detector on every level of the home. Check the batteries every six months (Daylight Saving Time in April and October are a good rule of thumb) and replace them annually.
  • Develop a home fire escape plan with two exits from every room. Establish a meeting place in a safe location so all family members can be accounted for. Call the fire department from a cordless phone, at a neighbor's home or other safe location. Never re-enter a burning building for any reason. Practice your home escape plan every six months and consider practicing it at night when most home fires occur.
  • Consider installing carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home, near sleeping areas where the audible alarm can be heard. If the alarm goes off, exit the home and call 911.  Recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and immediately exit the home if you suspect the presence of carbon monoxide. Call 911 from a safe location.

Safe Heating Tips
Most home-heating fires involve portable heaters and space heaters, with gas and kerosene heaters accounting for the highest fatality risk. However, all heating systems, including fireplaces, can be dangerous if not used and maintained properly. Before buying any heating equipment, check with your local fire department to ensure what you're buying conforms to local building and/or fire codes. When shopping for portable heaters or space heaters, look for automatic shut-off safety features. All portable heaters should bear the mark of an independent testing laboratory indicating that the heater has met basic safety standards.

When you use your fireplace, protect your home from sparks by using a fire screen made of sturdy metal or heat-tempered glass. Only burn dry wood. Carefully add wood; sparks can escape into the room while the screen is open. Be sure dampers are in working order, and never leave fires unattended.

Vents and Chimneys
All fueled heaters must be vented to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup in your home. Creosote and carbon deposits caused by inefficient burning in fireplaces and wood stoves can coat chimney flues and pose a fire hazard. Have your chimney inspected by a professional before each heating season and have it cleaned if necessary. Unusually high concentrations of chimney deposits could mean your fireplace or wood stove is not burning efficiently and should be inspected for defects. If you use a wood stove, have the flue and chimney connection regularly inspected and cleaned. Consider installing a spark arrester on top of any chimney that vents a solid-fuel stove or fireplace.

Space Heaters
Give space heaters space. Keep all combustible materials away from portable and space heaters. Place all space heaters at least three feet from furniture, walls, curtains or anything else that could catch fire. Turn off space heaters when you leave home or go to bed.

Liquid Fuel Safety
If your space heater burns liquid fuel such as kerosene, let the heater cool down before refueling it. Adding fuel to a hot heater can cause fumes to ignite. Always refuel your heater outdoors in an area away from structures where a spill won't present a fire hazard. Use only the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use a substitute or a lower-grade fuel. Never put gasoline in any space heater. Buy a fuel container for the space heater fuel that allows for safe storage of the fuel, and store the fuel in a garage or shed, not in the living area of your home.

Natural Gas-Fueled Heaters
Check vents periodically to make sure they aren't blocked. Never install nonvented heaters in bathrooms or sleeping areas.

Electric Heaters
Inspect electric heater cords for cracks or other damage and have an electrician replace frayed or damaged cords. If cords overheat while the heater is on, replace the heater. Electric heaters with a tip-over safety switch that turns off the heater if it is accidentally tipped over should only be purchased.

Central Heating Systems
Statistically, central heating systems are less likely than portable or space heaters to cause home fires, but neglect can increase the risk to your safety. Never store combustible materials near a furnace and be sure that installation and automatic shut-off systems conform to local fire safety codes and are in good working order.  Have your furnace inspected and serviced yearly if needed by a qualified professional.

For information on fire safety, visit the Division of Fire Prevention’s website at http://dhbc.ky.gov/fp/.