You see fewer smokers today than you did a decade ago. Bars and restaurants are now non-smoking as well. This means fewer fire deaths and injuries due to smoking materials. That is good news. But smoking is still a leading cause of fire death, injuries and causes of fire so we still need to be careful.
There are other reasons why smoking fires are declining. The effect of standards and regulations that have made mattresses and upholstered furniture more resistant to cigarette ignition is one of them. Another reason is the fire-safe cigarettes that are being regulated in many states and should be in all states by late 2012. Fire-safe cigarettes are intended to snuff themselves out if not puffed on as the burning reaches one of several “speed bumps” in the cigarette paper. Smoking fires still are responsible for 115,000 fires each year in the United States, and result in about 650 civilian fire deaths, 1,500 civilian injuries and $737 million in direct property damage.
The risk of dying in a home structure fire caused by smoking materials rises with age. Approximately 40 percent of victims of fatal fires caused by home smoking materials were 65 or older, while this age group is less likely to smoke than younger adults.
If you smoke in the house, have plenty of large, sturdy ashtrays. The ashtrays should be heavy enough to avoid tipping over easily, and should be large enough to hold an entire cigarette in it if it is lit and forgotten. If the ashtray is too light, it will tip over easily and allow the hot embers to fall in upholstered furniture, and if it is too small, the cigarette will burn down and fall off the ashtray and onto the surface if forgotten. Many take to the garage to smoke, but you still need to use an ashtray in the garage and empty it the next day when the ashes are completely cooled down. We have responded to many fires caused by peopleemptying hot embers into the garbage, which later bursts into flames.
Avoid smoking in bed or when you are taking medicine that makes you sleepy. It is all too common of a scenario when a person is smoking in bed, falls asleep and the cigarette hits the bedding materials and starts a fire.
As always, it is very important to have plenty of working smoke alarms in the home to warn residents if a fire does break out in the home. Make sure they are tested monthly and fresh batteries are installed each and every year. Pick an easy date to remember to test the smoke alarms, like the first of the month when you change the calendar. Bring the family along so they are familiar with the location of the smoke alarms and get to know the sound they make when they are alarming. Then discuss the appropriate actions that every family member should do in case of fire in the home.
A little vigilance can help change habits, which make us all safer in the end.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.