Thursday, February 18, 2010

Smoking remains number one cause of home fire deaths

Some statistics tell us that smoking is on the rise; others tell us that it is declining. Either way, there are still plenty of smokers out there! Regarding home fires, it isn't only the smokers who suffer, as one-fourth of the people killed in home fires caused by smokers are non-smokers. Each year, almost 1,000 civilians (smokers and non-smokers) are killed in home fires caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials. Smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths in the United States, and has been for years.
A fire broke out at 4:30 a.m. Dec. 28 in northeastern Mississippi. The fire was started by careless smokers, and it claimed the lives of the nine people in that apartment. The ages of the victims ranged from 25 years old down to the youngest victim, who was only 6 months old.
The safest thing that smokers can do for their families is to smoke outside. It may not be too difficult for some, but in Michigan, it takes a brave soul to head outside in the winter months for a smoke. There are many makeshift smoking lounges set up in Michigan garages, and that is better than smoking in the house.
Ashtrays should be large and sturdy. You want an ashtray that will hold the entire cigarette if you forget about it and leave it burning. You also want one sturdy enough that it will not tip over easily. Many states have Fire Safe Cigarettes, but some do not. The Fire Safe Cigarette is one that should self-extinguish once lit and not smoked for a short period of time.
This one may seems pretty simple, but never smoke in a house where oxygen is used for medical conditions. I can't tell you how many times I have seen emphysema patients smoking while a nasal cannula sits on their face. I have also responded to a number of fires where this was the cause.
Keep in mind that cigarettes burn at a lower temperature than open flames from a candle or match. When cigarettes come into contact with flammable materials, the materials tend to smolder before breaking out into flames. This is why so many cigarette-caused fires happen in the early morning hours, long after the cigarette has met ignitable materials and after the occupants have gone to bed.
Never smoke in bed, or when you are tired, medicated or intoxicated. This is where the high death toll really piles up — when people are not in an alert state of mind. Some general safety tips can go a long way in the homes of smokers and non-smokers alike. Have plenty of smoke alarms in the home, on all levels of the home and outside of sleeping areas. Make sure they are tested monthly and batteries are changed at least once a year. A home fire escape plan should be drawn up and practiced at least twice a year with the entire family.
Tom Kiurskiis training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.