(Forsyth County, GA) House fires are extremely common, and in Forsyth County and across the nation, they are on the rise. That's why fire experts say awareness is key for knowing what to do if flames spark at your home, and to prevent them from happening in the first place.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) conducted a five-year study from 2015 to 2019 and found that just over a quarter (26%) of reported fires occurred in homes. Furthermore, 72% of civilian fire-related injuries and 75% of civilian fire-related deaths occurred in homes.
The NFPA identified five main causes of home fires and casualties: cooking, heating, electrical distribution and lighting equipment, intentional fire setting, and smoking materials. While fires and how they start vary widely by situation, there are many preventative measures that you can take to minimize the risk to you and your home.
How to prepare
Fire safety begins long before a fire does. This is where fire experts like Forsyth County Fire Division Chief Jason Shivers are able to help.
Shivers urges homeowners to have multiple, up-to-date (less than 10 years old) smoke alarms to ensure that no fire anywhere in your house should go undetected. If your alarms are wired to your home, Shivers says backup battery power is vital so they can still function during a power outage.
“If it's just a smoke alarm hanging on the wall with no battery or doesn't have hard power to it, it does you no good,” Shivers said.
With how quickly fire can spread, time is of the essence. Smoke alarms function to alert you for all the times when you can’t see or smell a fire in your home, which is more often than you might think.
“The human body cannot smell smoke when you’re asleep,” said Shivers. “People think you can because you see it on television all the time. It’s a complete fallacy.”
Every second counts. The sooner you are alerted and aware of a fire, the sooner you can take action. Multiple fire extinguishers may be necessary for certain homes, but everyone should have at least one easily accessible at all times and know how to use it properly.
While some fires are small enough for homeowners to extinguish themselves, they should err on the side of caution when there is any uncertainty. No matter the size or location of the fire, Shivers says notifying the fire department must be a top priority.
“Early notification of 9-1-1 is critical. If someone tries to fight a fire themselves, that’s time that we don't know about it, and we can't get on the road quickly enough,” Shivers said.
In the last few decades, this has become even more of an issue as newer homes are built with more and more flammable materials.
Firefighters define older houses as legacy homes because their structures and furnishings are made from longer-burning materials like heavy wood and cotton. In modern homes, those materials have been replaced with petroleum products, and this flammable oil coats everything from the siding on a house to the clothes in the closet.
“The amount of time that firefighters have to react to home fires, to get inside and initiate a rescue and put that fire out, is absolutely minimal compared to how it was 30 or 40 years ago,” Shivers said. “The construction that we are encountering is dramatically more unsafe than it was in legacy homes of yesteryear.”
He says one of the most comprehensive safeguards homeowners should consider is installing a sprinkler system, especially if they are remodeling their home or building a new one. While homeowners may be worried about excess water damage, Shivers says one alternative is much better than the other.
“Everything dries out. Nothing unburns,” Shivers said.
When disaster strikes
Even with proper precautions, accidents happen, and anyone can have a fire in their home. So what do you do?
“A lot of this goes back to what you and I were taught in grade school,” Shivers said.
He says every family should make an escape plan so everyone knows how to get out from all the different points in their home, should a fire start. Different exitways may be necessary for different rooms, and this is especially true for multiple story homes where fires blocking stairways can trap people in the upper levels.
Shivers says multi-story homeowners should consider buying escape ladders which mount to the inside of window sills and allow a safe escape path from any level of the home.
Families should also have a known meeting point where they all convene once they have escaped. The front yard is usually a good idea as it puts you near the road where you can meet firefighters as they arrive.
Fire safety is a proactive effort, not reactive. With the frequency of fires and all the different ways they can start in your home, preventative measures are needed to protect your home, and more importantly, the people inside of it.
“If [you] or a family member is lost, it can’t be replaced,” Shivers said.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Ben Lacina at email@example.com