Safety Source


Heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires between December and February, with one-fifth of all home heating fires occurring in January

Home heating equipment is the leading cause of U.S. home fires during the months of December, January and February, when nearly half (48 percent) of all U.S. home heating equipment fires occur. January is the leading month for home heating fires; one-fifth (20 percent) of all home heating fires happen during this month.  According to NFPA’s latest heating equipment statistics, there was an annual average of 48,530 fires home heating fires between 2014 and 2018, resulting in an estimated 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.  During the coldest months of the year, when we see the largest share of home heating fires, it’s critical that people understand when and where home heating fires tend to happen so that they can take the needed steps to minimize those risks. Space heaters were the type of equipment most often responsible for home heating equipment fires, accounting for more than two in five fires, as well as the vast majority of associated deaths and injuries. Fireplaces or chimneys were involved in approximately three in 10 home heating equipment fires. Other leading types of home heating equipment fires included central heat systems and water heaters, with each accounting for approximately one in 10 heating equipment fires. A failure to clean equipment was the leading cause of home heating fires, with creosote build-up in chimneys presenting a particular issue. Fires in which a heat source was too close to combustible materials caused the largest shares of civilian deaths, injuries, and direct property damage. Fortunately, the vast majority of heating fires can be prevented by making sure heating equipment is in good working order and monitored carefully. NFPA offers these tips and guidelines for safely heating your home this winter: Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet (one meter) away from all heating equipment, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters. Always use the right kind of fuel, as specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters. Create a three-foot (one meter) “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Make sure space heaters are in good working order and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. Fireplaces should have a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container, which should be placed outside at least 10 feet away from your home. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company. Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are located throughout the home; test them monthly to ensure that they’re working properly NFPA offers a wealth of home heating safety tips, information, and resources to help better educate the public about ways to safely heat their homes. In addition, NFPA’s “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires” campaign with the U.S. Fire Administration works to promote a host of winter safety issues, including home heating.

Engaging your community in fire safety

It’s New Year’s Resolution time, and for Fire & Life Safety (FLS) educators, that means helping our communities adopt fire safety habits.  According to the NFPA Report on Fire Loss in the U.S., 2019, local fire departments responded to almost 1.3 million fires in 2019. These fires caused roughly 3,700 civilian deaths, 16,600 civilian injuries and $14.8 billion in property damage. A fire occurs in a structure at the rate of one every 65 seconds, and a home fire occurs every 93 seconds.  Those of us in the world of fire and life safety (FLS) education live and breathe these types of statistics and are constantly trying to find ways to engage our community to keep fire prevention top of mind and integrated into daily life.  From smoke & CO alarms to home escape planning, to safe cooking and heating practices, our goal is for our community members to make fire safety as much a habit as brushing their teeth.  Anyone who has tried to stop biting their nails or tried to start an exercise regimen knows that it takes more than just knowing something is good/bad to create motivation and action towards starting or breaking a habit.  It’s not enough to just know and agree that smoke alarms and home escape planning are important to home fire safety.  Getting people to adopt fire safety behaviors requires a number of interrelated factors to fall into place. One such factor is the way in which people consider their actual risk of harm from fire.   Just as people “know” texting and driving increases the risk of a crash, many still engage in this dangerous behavior because they’ve somehow managed to skew the risk in their favor, ie. “it’s only for a second,” “I have quick reflexes,” or “I’m good at multitasking.”  So too with fire safety in which people often assume they will have plenty of time to escape a fire, have the ability to put out a fire, or overestimate their ability to detect a fire on their own.  Fire & Life Safety educators use a variety of methods to address this perception of risk by sharing local data, personal stories, and using fire incidents as ways for people to connect the dots to their own lives.  NFPA's Community Tool Kits provide a variety of tools to support these efforts in using data, information and provision of actionable resources with the goal of adoption of fire safety behaviors.  Resolve to keep promoting fire safety as a daily habit for your community with the help of these toolkits which provide a multi-dimensional to approach behavior change with a variety of tactics and community partners.   Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on  Twitter, Facebook  and Instagram to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division at NFPA.
Man dies after helping uncle to escape home fire in West Warwick, RI

Two tragic home fires underscore deadly risks of trying to save a loved one from a home fire, and the extreme importance of home escape planning and practice

Photo: In the past week, two tragic home fires underscored the deadly potential of trying to save a loved one from a home fire. The incidents also reinforce the value of developing a home escape plan and practicing it regularly with all members of the household. Last Friday, a woman in Beltsville, MD, escaped a home fire but re-entered the house to save her daughter. Unbeknownst to the mother, her daughter had already escaped to the outside, but she died inside while searching for her. On early Wednesday morning, a man died in a West Warwick, RI, home fire after working to awaken his sleeping uncle. The uncle escaped, believing his nephew was right behind him, but in actuality had become trapped inside and perished. In both incidents, the efforts and intentions of a family member trying to save a loved one from a home fire were overwhelmingly understandable and noble, but tragically contributed to their heartbreaking outcomes. A central feature of a home escape plan is having an outside meeting place in front of the home where everyone knows to meet. This practice helps quickly and accurately identify household members who have escaped safely and those who are still inside or unaccounted for. Another key message behind home escape planning and practice is “get outside, stay outside.” As simple as this behavior may sound, it can be a painfully challenging one to follow in a real-life fire situation. But because today’s home fires burn faster than ever, generating toxic smoke and gases that make it difficult or impossible to see and breathe within moments, the safest course of action is to get out as quickly and safely as possible and to alert firefighters to anyone trapped inside. Firefighters have the gear and training to go inside a burning building. For everyone else, re-entering a burning building or delaying your own escape presents grave risks. Overall, NFPA’s data shows that the number of U.S. home fires is declining, but the death toll incurred by them is not. In other words, while people are getting better at preventing home fires from happening, when home fires do occur, people are continuing to struggle to escape safely. Clearly, much work is still needed to be done in better educating the public about their real risk to home fires, and the critical value of home escape planning and practice. To increase awareness around these messages in your community, use and share NFPA’s home escape planning and practice resources, which offer step-by-step guidance, tools, and support for getting started.
house with lights on

Home Electrical Safety the Focus of NFPA Faces of Fire Electrical Hazard Awareness Campaign Video

As 2021 winter season kicks off and with more households continuing to work and study from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, we must be ever vigilant about home fire safety. This includes understanding the dangers of electricity related to our devices and equipment powered by it. NFPA and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors have introduced the fifth video interview of their six-part campaign series, Faces of Fire/Electrical, that features the personal story of a woman who, as a young girl, was seriously injured in an house fire, demonstrating the need for continued education and awareness about electrical hazards at home.  In the spring of 1959, then five-year old Pam Elliott suffered third degree burns over 50 percent of her body from a fire ignited by a damaged lighting fixture that destroyed her family home. She spent months during her elementary and high school years undergoing reconstructive surgery to help restore the function of her hands, arms, and legs, and the appearance of her injuries. Equipment and devices powered by electricity as well as faulty structural wiring are potential sources for electrical fires. We all know how much electricity makes our lives easier but today we expect more out of our electrical systems than ever before. This increased need often puts undo burden on these systems, especially in aging homes that are not set up for all our modern equipment and lighting. The Faces of Fire/Electrical campaign reminds us about potential home electrical hazards, how to recognize the warning signs, and the action steps homeowners need to take to reduce associated risks, including contacting a local qualified, licensed electrician who can work with us to find and correct fire safety hazards in our home before a serious incident occurs.  While many electrical injuries prove fatal, those that are not can be particularly debilitating, oftentimes involving complicated recoveries and lasting emotional and physical impact. Today, Pam shares her personal burn story to advocate for home fire sprinklers and home fire safety and she speaks for the most vulnerable people in house fires including infants, children, the elderly, and the disabled. Overall, the Faces of Fire/Electrical campaign works to help build a safer world by teaching others and supporting the burn survivor community in advancing lifelong healing, optimal recovery, and burn and injury prevention. We sincerely thank Pam for sharing her story with us. You can view all of the videos, including the latest interview with Fire Chief Luis Nevarez, from California,  Amy Acton, Chief Executive Officer of the Phoenix Society, and  the first two videos of our series featuring Dave Schury and Sam Matagi, on our dedicated campaign webpage. There you will also find free resources to download and share, including fact sheets, tip sheets, infographics and more, in addition to information about electrical safety in both the home and in the workplace. See Pam’s video and read more about her work by visiting the Faces of Fire/Electrical website at
Dried out Christmas tree

With nearly one-third of Christmas tree fires occurring in January, prompt removal from homes is critical

Saying goodbye to your Christmas tree may not be easy, but here’s a compelling reason to remove it as soon as possible: Nearly one-third (31 percent) of U.S. home fires that begin with Christmas trees occurs in January. The longer a natural tree is kept up after Christmas, the more likely it is to dry out and ignite; a dried-out tree can become engulfed in flames in a matter of seconds. That’s why we’re strongly encouraging people to remove Christmas trees from their homes promptly after the holiday season. For this year in particular, when many people began decorating their homes earlier than usual, trees have been in homes for several weeks, presenting an increased fire risk as the days go by. NFPA’s latest Christmas Tree Fires report, which reflects annual averages between 2014 and 2018, shows that 160 home structure fires began with Christmas trees, resulting in two civilian deaths, 14 civilian injuries, and $10.3 million in direct property damage. According to the report, fires that begin with Christmas trees are a very small but notable part of the U.S. fire problem, considering that they are generally in use for a short time each year. Some Christmas tree fires occur in chimneys or flues, suggesting that people may burn the tree to dispose of it. With these concerns in mind, the U.S. Forest Service offers this caution: “Never burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove! Pines, firs and other evergreens have a high content of flammable turpentine oils and burning the tree may contribute to creosote buildup and risk a chimney fire.” To safely dispose of a Christmas tree, NFPA recommends using the local community’s recycling program, if possible; trees should not be put in the garage or left outside. Also, following are tips for safely removing lighting and decorations and storing them properly to ensure that they’re in good condition the following season: Use the gripping area on the plug when unplugging electrical decorations. Never pull the cord to unplug any device from an electrical outlet, as this can harm the wire and insulation of the cord, increasing the risk for shock or electrical fire. As you pack up light strings, inspect each line for damage, throwing out any sets that have loose connections, broken sockets or cracked or bare wires. Wrap each set of lights and put them in individual plastic bags or wrap them around a piece of cardboard. Store electrical decorations in a dry place away from children and pets where they will not be damaged by water or dampness. For more information on home fire safety all winter long, visit “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires,” a winter safety campaign NFPA promotes annually with the U.S. Fire Administration.
Two men cooking in the kitchen
Put a freeze on winter fires logo

Put a Freeze on Winter Fires this Holiday Season and Beyond

As temperatures drop and thermostats are turned up, Fire and Life Safety (FLS) education efforts must include key winter fire and carbon monoxide (CO) prevention messaging and resources. In conjunction with the US Fire Administration, NFPA is once again promoting the Put a Freeze on Winter Fires Campaign featuring new infographics and social media cards to promote easy and critical ways people can prevent fires and CO poisoning. During the winter months the use of heating equipment, decorations, candles, and generators increase, bringing with an increased risk of fire and CO poisoning. Generators are the leading type of equipment involved in unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning with heating ranking second.  One in every seven home fires involves heating equipment, accounting for 19% of all home fire deaths. Community members need annual reminders of the dangers as well as practical ways to protect their family and home. Key tips for your communities include: Have a qualified professional clean and inspect your chimney, vents, and heating equipment every year. Make sure to have working smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside the sleeping area, and on each level, including the basement. Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet (1 meter) from any heat source like fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators or space heaters. Plug heat producing appliances directly into an outlet; never use an extension cord. Keep portable generators outside away from window, and as far away from your home as possible. Make sure everyone in your home (including guests) are part of your Home Fire Escape Plan including knowing 2 ways out and the outside meeting place. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on  Twitter, Facebook  and Instagram to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division at NFPA.
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