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Winter fire safety

Winter fire safety is important. Just because it's winter outside doesn't mean that a fire can't start inside your house. A fire could start for any number of reasons. Fire happens no matter what. Doing some simple fire prevention tasks will help keep you, your family and pets safe. 

Heat sources

Fires can start from quite a few places in your home. The most obvious one is the kitchen but there are also fireplaces, bad electrical wiring, heating appliances like a plug-in heater and the laundry machines.

What are the best locations to keep a fire extinguisher?

The most common locations for a fire extinguisher in your house are:

  • Kitchen
  • Main door exit   
  • Laundry
  • Living/Family room  (particularly if you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace)
  • Hallway (near bedrooms)
  • Garage.

Types of fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are divided into four main types that are called "classes". These are:

  • Class A
  • Class B
  • Class C  
  • Class D.

The class code is listed on the body of the fire extinguisher.

Each class of fire extinguishers is used for different types of fires. 

What class of fire extinguisher fights what type of fire?

Different types of fires demand different types of fire extinguishers be used on them such as:

  • Class A = Paper, wood, cardboard, clothing and most household plastics.  
  • Class B = Flammable or combustible liquids e.g. oil, grease, gasoline or kerosene.
  • Class C = Electrical like wiring, electrical panels, outlets and appliances. 
  • Class D = Industrial (burning metals).

What type of fire happens in a house?

Typically, you would find that the first three out of the four classes (Classes A, B, and C) of fire could very easily happen in your home. Most common types of house fires would be:

  • Paper/newspaper catching fire 
  • A candle igniting something flammable
  • A grease fire on the stove 
  • Wood stove or fireplace igniting something flammable 
  • Faulty electrical wiring in the walls, in an appliance or at the electrical panel.

What type of fire extinguisher is best where?

Here are some recommendations to keep in mind.

  • Class A for kitchens. This kind of fire extinguisher is typically used in small house fires
  • Class B is used for kitchen stove fires, storage or wherever there are flammables e.g. the basement and garage
  • Class C is used for the electrical panel wherever it's located although such a fire could happen elsewhere too where wires short out creating an electrical spark.

Very Important to know about winter fire safety, fire extinguishers and fires

Keep this critical fact in mind: using the wrong kind (i.e. class) of fire extinguisher on a particular type of fire could be life-threatening. 

There are also some fire extinguishers that have a combined rating. This means they can be used in a fire that has different combustibles involved in it. You'll need to check the manufacturer's label carefully to determine if it's suitable for your purpose and where you want it to be located in case of fire.

Buying fire extinguishers

You can buy a household type of fire extinguisher from most large retail hardware stores. 

When you do, be sure to:

  • Determine the class of fire extinguisher you need
  • Read the manufacturer's instructions carefully 
  • Consult with the sales staff to make sure of your purchase or perhaps
  • Seek professional advice (from the local fire department) when buying a fire extinguisher if you are unsure of what you need.

Using a fire extinguisher

Residential fire extinguishers are more to put out small spot or contained fires like toast burning up in a toaster and spreading, a toaster oven or something catches fire in wastebasket. These portable fire extinguishers work for a short time (10 to 15 seconds) at a distance of about 6 to 8 feet (2 to 3 meters) before they are empty.

It's all about timing; catching the fire early and putting it out as fast as possible. However, if the fire starts to spread, don't stay, call the fire department then get out of the house immediately

Even when you think you've put the fire out, it may not be out completely. Fire is sneaky as it can hide inside walls, in ceilings and under floors. Calling the fire department anyway is a very good idea because it's way better to be safe than sorry.

Inspecting and maintaining your fire extinguishers

As part of your overall winter fire safety plan, you'll need to inspect all the fire extinguishers you have so they are ready to use and are in good shape. It's a good plan to do this inspection once a year.

Doing some simple fire safety maintenance includes making sure:

  • The nozzle is clear
  • The gauge is reading "charged"
  • The lock pin is secure.

If you use it, you'll need to recharge the fire extinguisher. You should do this regardless of how much you have used. This ensures it's still ready for use and you'll know it's full if you need it again. 

Even if you don't use them, at some future date, you will have to replace all of your fire extinguishers over a period of time. Keep a record of when you bought them so you'll know when it's time to buy new ones. Remember to contact your local fire department on how to safely dispose of the old fire extinguishers.

We have a mixed-use building (part residential and commercial) so our fire extinguishers are inspected and when necessary, are refilled by a professional fire services company every year. 

Winter fire safety = a fire plan and a family fire drill

Winter fire safety definitely includes a fire plan and a family fire drill. No doubt, you know every nook and cranny of your home but if a fire starts, that familiar room becomes an alien landscape in a second, and a very panic-filled second at that. 

What to do? 

Well, you can have some piece of mind by having a fire evacuation plan with all the critical steps in place.

Here's what you need to do to make sure everyone gets safely out of the house during a fire emergency:

  1. Create a fire plan (include the house layout, location of windows and door exits, location of stairs, how to get to the exits, 2nd floor exits etc - anything that will aid you and your family in escaping a house fire) 
  2. Create a family fire drill so everyone knows what to do and when to do it and remember your pets are part of the family too
  3. Practice the family fire drill frequently in the beginning and every few months after that
  4. Practice doing the drill with eyes closed as a way to imitate what it could be like in a smoke-filled house
  5. Make sure there's a place well away from your house where everyone is to meet up so you know all your family is safe and accounted for. 

Enlist your children's help and engage them in making a game of out of the whole exercise. It will help them to remember what they need to do. Having an evacuation plan in place and a practiced family fire drill may make all the difference to you and your family.

More on winter fire safety

There are other safety measures you also need to do and be aware of such as having smoke alarms in your house, carbon monoxide detectors and regular furnace checks (i.e. possible gas leaks).

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