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Protecting What Matters - Easy Tips to Follow
By Deena Court / November, December 2012

This year, National Fire Prevention Week is October 7 to 13, with the focus, as always, on fire safety and prevention. Vernon T. Houchin, a retired fire department captain who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, says many potential fire hazards go undetected, because families simply do not take the necessary steps to protect their homes.

Electrical accidents and fires cause personal injury to homeowners and millions of dollars of damage to homes each year. These tragedies often result from poor installation, outdated components, and systems that have not been maintained properly.

To protect you, organizations like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provide and continually update electrical standards for homes and communities. Additionally, the electrical industry is constantly improving with new technology to make homes safer. The electrical codes are constantly updated to reflect new technology.
However, many of these technologies are installed with outdated wiring. If your home hasn't been updated with the latest standards, you have a potential hazard in your home. Fires are real threats, but, with the proper steps, can be avoided.

Many fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, careless use of candles, smoking in bed, and children playing with matches and lighters. Most potential hazards can be addressed with a little common sense. For example, be sure to keep flammable items like bedding, clothes, curtains and towels at least three feet away from portable heaters or lit candles, and never smoke in bed. Also, items like appliances, portable air conditioners, irons, lights, and fans should not be operated, if they have frayed power cords. Electrical outlets should never be overloaded.

To help prevent threats, it is important to ask yourself the following:

Do I have an evacuation plan for my family? (Fifty million Americans do not have a fire escape plan.)
When was the last time I saw my fire extinguisher? (Thirty-seven million Americans do not own one. Others, who do own fire extinguishers, haven't tested them.)
Have I ever had a professional check of my smoke alarms? (Seven million Americans do not own a smoke alarm.)
When was the last time I had a home inspection for my electrical system?

Do you know you should have the batteries in your smoke detectors changed once per year and cleaned to ensure safety? Smoke alarms should also be replaced every ten years, per the manufacturer's recommendations. Their chambers should be cleaned. Their functionality should be tested. They should be installed in the appropriate places.

Do a fire extinguisher and carbon monoxide assessment where necessary, along with an electrical safety evaluation. If you have a twenty- to thirty-year-old breaker panel, it may look okay on the outside, but may not protect you in a dangerous electrical situation. If a breaker in a panel keeps tripping, it is doing its job.

Don't forget -- most electrical fires can be prevented with regular, scheduled maintenance. With homeowner education, improved safety standards and local fire safety programs, homes and loved ones are protected and saved.

Deena Court is the general manager of Mister Sparky in Pompano Beach.




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