I am blessed and cursed to find out about the causes of fatal fires in our country. Any person can do this, but it is my job to study them and report the lessons back to the citizens in an effort to better protect them. Most of them are needless deaths that could easily have been prevented; about 3,000 U.S. citizens die each year in fires. They usually die in small numbers, which doesn't tend to raise too much public interest. Unless you happen to be me.
Recently, a 57-year-old man died when he was overcome with smoke in his home. Investigators determined that the fire began when he fell asleep while smoking. His body was found at the end of a sofa, next to his slippers, a blanket, an ashtray and plenty of cigarettes. There was also evidence of alcohol consumption, possibly affecting his behavior.
In 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 114,800 smoking-material fires similar to this one. These fires resulted in an estimated 680 civilian fire deaths, more than 1,500 injuries and $737 million in direct property damage. Not surprisingly, mattresses and bedding and upholstered furniture are the items most commonly ignited in these fires. If you smoke in the home, use a large ashtray that will hold the cigarette even if you light it and forget about it. Never smoke in bed or when you are taking medications that will make you sleepy.
In Massachusetts, a 71-year-old woman and her 72-year-old husband died of smoke inhalation due to a fire in their oven. The oven was used for storage, and it was inadvertently turned on before the items were removed. The woman died at the scene, and her husband died later after being admitted to the hospital.
There are many things that enter homes, and many different places they can be put. They definitely should not be placed in heat sources, or within three feet of potential ignition sources such as oven, stoves, furnaces, portable space heaters and fireplaces.
In Washington, a 59-year-old man died as a result of injuries he sustained escaping from a fire in his home. The fire started in the living room, where an extension cord was run under a carpet. The cord lost its insulating cover after years of the friction of walking over it in a high-traffic area. The heat from the cord ignited the rug and flooring before spreading from there.
Extension cords are meant for a temporary use, powering an item that should be used for a limited time. They should never be used as permanent wiring, run under carpets or rugs and hung over nails or hooks. If you need more outlets, contact an electrician.
Most people are complacent about fire hazards in their home. They get caught up in the daily routines they have established and take little time to consider fire safety. Learn the lessons of these folks, and practice fire safety in your home.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.