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Fire Protection Systems

Learn some designs and plans for household fire protection systems.

Working smoke detectors are the first line of defense for safely escaping a fire. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Working smoke detectors are the first line of defense for safely escaping a fire.

Fire protection systems are essential in helping to defend against residential fires. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), more than 4,000 Americans, including civilians and firefighters, die in fires annually, and another 20,000 are injured. Fire-related property damage is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The USFA also reports that 84 percent of the civilian fire deaths happened in the home.

Though there is no sure way to prevent a residential fire, steps can be taken to lower the risk. Installing smoke detectors and residential sprinkler systems and having a home-escape plan and fire extinguishers at the ready can help reduce fire damages.

Smoke Detectors

Working smoke detectors are the first line of defense for safely escaping a fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), these devices have reduced the number of fire-related deaths by almost half. The NFPA recommends:

• Installing a smoke alarm outside of all sleeping areas and on all levels of the house
• Positioning the detectors on the ceiling or on a wall, six to 12 inches below the ceiling
• Linking all smoke detectors so that if one sounds, they all sound
• Routinely testing each detector by pressing the "test" button
• Replacing the batteries once a year or when the alarm starts "chirping"
• Keeping detectors free of dust, grease or anything else that may compromise their effectiveness

Smoke detectors never should be placed near air vents, heat registers, high airflow or "dead" spots. When purchasing a smoke detector, select one with the Underwriters Laboratory (UL).

Home Sprinkler Systems

The presence of a home sprinkler system can reduce the chances of fire casualties between 25 to 75 percent, according to the NFPA. The amount of property loss incurred is also reduced dramatically. The system's quick response time and reliability limit how much heat, flame and smoke are generated. Installing a residential sprinkler system also increases the property's resale value and may lower insurance rates by up to 15 percent.

Fire Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers are useful for combating or containing small fires while waiting for the fire department's arrival. These appliances have limitations, however. The key to operating an extinguisher is the word "PASS":

Pull the pin, with the extinguisher's nozzle extended away from the body
Aim the device low, with its nozzle aimed at the fire's base
Squeeze the lever slowly and uniformly
Sweep the nozzle back and forth

The NFPA recommends a multipurpose fire extinguisher that carries the UL label for home use. Always read the instructions and know how to use the extinguisher before an emergency arises.

Fire Escape Plans

When a fire breaks out, time is of the essence. Every minute - every second - counts. It takes less than one minute for a tiny flame to spiral uncontrollably. Shortly thereafter, the air is blanketed in thick black smoke and the building structure is fully engulfed.

Families that implement a home fire escape plan increase their chances of surviving a house fire. Unfortunately, less than 25 percent of all homes have such a plan. Start by drawing a home floor plan that identifies all rooms, windows, inside and outside doors and smoke alarms. Everyone in the household should memorize the layout. With the floor plan in mind, an escape plan should be drawn to use should a fire occur. The plan should include two means of egress from each room. Escape ladders may be needed for second-story evacuations. Plans also must consider young children or seniors, who may need assistance. It is a good idea to designate family members to help them. Copies of the escape plan should be posted on every level of the home.

When designing a home escape plan, make sure that all windows and doors open with ease and are free from obstruction. Any security bars on the windows must be equipped with a "quick-release" device that ensures doors and windows will open at once. All family members should know how to open these locks. Make sure to designate a meeting place at the front of the house. Someone should be assigned to take attendance. It's also a good idea for families to have regular fire drills to practice in case of an emergency. Families should practice their escape plan in daylight and at night.

Fire officials warn individuals to never re-enter a burning building after escaping safely. Instead, tell firefighters if someone is still inside, including pets. Firefighters also advise individuals to check doors, doorknobs and the openings between the door and its frame for heat before opening. This is done by touching the upper part of the door with the backside of the hand. If the door is too hot, a secondary escape route must be used. If escaping in smoky conditions, individuals are cautioned to stay low and crawl beneath the smoke with their mouths covered.

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