(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)
When they are used correctly, fire extinguishers can save both lives and property, but many adults do not know how to properly use one. It is important to know how fire extinguishers work, how to use them, how to identify which type to use, and how to maintain them before a fire takes place.
Before Using an Extinguisher
While it is necessary to act quickly in the event of a fire, education also goes a long way in fighting hostile fires. Knowing what to do in an emergency before it happens will help make firefighting quicker and safer:
- Pull the alarm – If you see a fire, always activate the fire alarm to alert both the occupants of the building as well as the fire department (call 9-1-1 if your alarm system doesn’t do this automatically).
- Plan an escape route – if you plan on fighting the fire, know how to leave the area quickly in case the fire gets out of control. Only fight the fire if you have a clear escape route.
- Know how to use the extinguisher – take time to learn how to properly aim, sweep, and extinguish a fire; many offices and companies have annual employee safety trainings which include fire extinguisher exercises.
- Assess the size of the fire – fire extinguishers are only meant to put out small, single-location fires; never attempt to put out a large conflagration with a handheld extinguisher.
- Determine the fuel source – it is important to know what kind of fire is burning before you use an extinguisher – using the incorrect extinguisher can be extremely dangerous – by spreading the fire or causing flare ups. For example, using a water-based extinguisher can spread an oil fire or electrocute a user fighting an electrical fire, and Carbon Dioxide extinguishers can actually fuel certain types of fires.
Types of Extinguishers
A fire’s fuel source will determine what type of fire extinguisher needs to be used to extinguish it. In the United States, there are five classes of fires as defined by the National Fire Protection Association:
- Class A – Common combustibles such as wood, paper, most plastics, rubber, and fabric. Symbols: Triangle with letter A and picture of burning wood/trash can.
- Class B – Flammable liquid such as gasoline, oil, paint, and kerosene. Symbols: Square with letter B and picture of burning gasoline jerry can.
- Class C – Electrical fires and electrical equipment. Symbols: Circle with letter C and picture of burning electrical plug and socket.
- Class D – Combustible metals such as lithium batteries, sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Symbol: Five-Pointed Star with letter D and picture of burning machine gears.
- Class K – Cooking oils and fats such as vegetable oils, margarine, butter, animal fats, and grease. Symbol: Hexagon with letter K and picture of pan/pot on fire.
Each class is marked on an extinguisher by both a letter (class letter), and a symbol. Most homes and offices contain multi-purpose “ABC” extinguishers which can be used for those three classes of fire. The contents of fire extinguishers vary depending on the class of fire being put out. Some materials can put out multiple classes of fire, while others are used for only a specific class. These include dry chemicals, foams, Carbon Dioxide, halon gases, compressed water, and pressurized metal based powders. It is important to know what is in your building’s extinguishers so they do not cause more damage than necessary (especially when used around electronic equipment). It is also important you never use the incorrect class of extinguisher as it may exacerbate the fire.
Using an Extinguisher
When using an extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS”, which stands for, Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Stand between 6 to 8 feet away from the fire and:
- Pull the safety pin to release the trigger.
- Aim at the base of the fire (where the fuel source is).
- Squeeze the trigger continuously until the spraying stops.
- Sweep from side to side until the fire extinguisher is empty.
An average size fire extinguisher dispenses its contents within 8 to 10 seconds – if the fire does not disappear, leave the area immediately.
Fire extinguishers need to be routinely checked for adequate pressure and cleanliness.
- Make sure there is no visible rust or dents on the extinguisher and the handle/trigger are clean and free of dust and debris.
- Fire extinguishers should always be kept in easy to reach, clearly visible (and marked with signage), unobstructed places, evenly distributed among floor plans and throughout multiple floors of a building. Keep in mind the typical hazards located around the building – keep Class K extinguishers near the kitchen, Class C extinguishers near the computer room/server room, and class A extinguishers near the dumpster.
- Depending on the type of chemical/gas used, the fire extinguisher will need to undergo hydrostatic pressure testing by a professional on a varying schedule: between 5 years for wet contents, CO2, & foams, and up to 12 for halon gases, dry powders, and dry chemicals.
- Extinguishers exposed to elements such as vibrations, extreme heat or cold, or ones stored on vehicles should be inspected/tested more frequently.
- Regular maintenance such as visual inspections, cleanings, and pressure checks should be done every month.
- In areas with many kids and teenagers, fire extinguishers should be kept in protected cabinets (where glass must be broken or an alarm sounds if opened) to deter vandalism.
While fire extinguishers can be the first line of defense against a fire, they have their limitations. Never use a fire extinguisher without training and only use it to combat small fires. Handheld extinguishers are ineffective against conflagrations, so the best course of action when confronted with a large fire is to leave the area immediately and wait for the fire department from a safe distance. Most importantly, always activate the fire alarm and if for any reason you cannot fight the fire, leave the area at once; you can replace property, but you can’t replace lives.
“Choosing and using fire extinguishers.” U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, 29 Dec. 2016, www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/extinguishers.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)
Between planning itineraries, booking hotels & flights, packing, and making reservations, vacations can be quite stressful, even if they’re meant to reduce stress. On top of the prospect of flight delays, bad weather, and rowdy kids, you shouldn’t have to worry about your home and your property. Careful planning can help you and your family avoid a costly loss at home and abroad.
- Clear out your wallet: carry only what is absolutely essential. Aside from the inconvenience of a lost wallet, a stolen wallet can mean big trouble if your cards and IDs get into the wrong hands. Bring only one credit card with fraud protection and leave your debit cards, and any unnecessary contents at home or in the hotel safe. Report your trip with your credit card company to avoid an accidental freeze on the account. Also, bring only enough cash to cover the incidentals for the day – not the entire trip, and leave the rest in the hotel safe.
- Make copies of your passport/ID: produce color photocopies of any documents you plan on having with you on the trip. Store a copy in the hotel safe, and keep one at home in case you lose the original. You can also register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate if you plan on traveling abroad. This free service will assist you if you in an emergency, such as losing your passport.
- Avoid social media: don’t over share your trip experience until you get home. While it may be tempting to publish your hike up the Great Wall or your pint of stout in Dublin, social media posts inform could-be criminals that you’re not home. These posts include status updates, check-ins, Snap Chat stories, pictures, and anything that is posted with your current location.
- Make sure your rental is insured: If you are planning on renting a car on your trip, check if you’re covered. Typically, your personal auto policy will extend both liability and physical damage coverage while using a rental car within the US, its territories and Canada. Double check with your agent or insurance company to make sure. If you are traveling to anywhere else or you don’t have a personal auto policy, you’ll need supplemental insurance (provided as an extra cost by the rental company). As a general rule when in doubt, get the insurance offered at the rental company; peace of mind goes a long way when traveling. In addition, make sure you familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road and abide by all speed limits. Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may also need to apply for an international license.
- Secure your home: make sure your home systems remain working while you’re away. Arm your security system before you head out and set the lights on timers to make it appear as though someone is home. If it is cold outside, make sure the thermostat is set to at least 65 degrees and all pipes are adequately insulated. Lock all doors, windows, and gates, and keep valuables stored inside the garage or the house, but away from exterior windows (so as to not attract burglars). If you’re going away for an extended period of time, reach out to the post office and your newspaper to suspend delivery until you get back. Piles of newspapers indicate a homeowner’s absence while mail and packages are prone to theft, which can also increase the risk of identity theft.
Whether you’re going on a weekend road trip or an international excursion, a bit of preparation and careful planning will help you have a more enjoyable trip and avoid a lot of potential headache.
(Photo Credit: The N&D Group)
Tornadoes can form at anytime and almost anywhere if the conditions are right. While accurately predicting their formation and movement can sometimes prove impossible for meteorologists, the damage tornadoes cause is widely documented and studied. Still, due to unique firsthand experiences, word of mouth, and sensationalized news stories, there are many widely spread myths about tornadoes that, if believed to be true, can put people in the path of danger. This list includes some of the most common misconceptions surrounding tornadoes.
Using Highway Overpasses as Shelters
Perhaps the most notorious and dangerous tornado myth is believing that a highway overpass is a suitable storm shelter. This stems from a 1991 Kansas event in which a TV news crew sought shelter under a highway overpass during a tornado and escaped with only minor injuries. The footage captured was shown across the US and led viewers to believe that highway overpasses are a good place to hunker down during a tornado. However, several unique and specific factors led to the crew’s survival, including the unusual design of the bridge in question as well as the path of the storm, which changed directions at the last minute, avoiding the bridge. A typical highway bridge’s shape could act as a wind tunnel, actually intensifying wind speeds and making overpasses some of the worst places to seek shelter. Wind speeds also increase with elevation and if a bridge’s embankment is higher than the surrounding area, it compounds the effect. In addition, vehicles stopped on roadways under bridges may disrupt the flow of traffic and block emergency vehicles, creating a traffic jam and/or cause accidents, putting others in danger.
The National Weather Service recommends that if you’re traveling in your car into the path of an oncoming tornado, immediately pull over and seek the nearest sturdy shelter – preferably an interior basement or first floor room of a well built municipal structure like a school or town hall. If no suitable building is available, as a LAST RESORT, lie flat in a ditch or low lying area to avoid flying debris, or drive away from the tornado only if it is far enough away and the road is clear.
There are several widely held, but inaccurate beliefs about the storms themselves. The first is that the size of the funnel cloud is an indication of its relative strength. In reality, size does not matter when it comes to the wind speeds observed in tornadoes. Some of the strongest F5 tornadoes have measured less than 100 yards wide.
Another incorrect assumption is that tornadoes always move northwest, which may leave those southwest of a storm in a false sense of security. The truth is that while most tornadoes move in a general northwest direction, many times they do not and more importantly, a tornado can change directions suddenly and without notice.
Finally, the funnel cloud does not have to reach the ground in order to be destructive. Many believe the funnel cloud marks where the intense winds are located when in actuality, it’s just condensation. The destructive winds can reach the ground even if the funnel cloud does not. Furthermore, not all tornadoes have visible funnel clouds, and some may be obscured by heavy rain.
Where and When Tornadoes Strike
When most of us think of tornadoes, thoughts of storms over expansive corn fields and flat prairie lands come to mind. And while the majority of tornadoes in the US do indeed occur in the Great Plains known as “Tornado Alley” during the period of March through June, they can occur just about anywhere and at any time. Tornadoes can traverse mountains, lakes, rivers, cliffs, and valleys. In fact, tornadoes have been documented in every state of the US and during every month of the year, in both rural and heavily urban areas. Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, and even Brooklyn for example, have been hit multiple times, though many think that cities, especially ones with tall buildings, cannot. Tornadoes can also form on water (phenomena known as waterspouts), and the presence of a body of water does not weaken or stop a tornado.
Outrunning a Tornado
There are times when people try to outrun a tornado in their car, but this can be very dangerous. It is true that an average tornado moves slower than most cars at highway speeds, and at a great distance, motorists can avoid a visible tornado by driving away from it at a 90 degree angle relative to its path. However, this doesn’t take into consideration that a tornado doesn’t have to deal with traffic, obstacles blocking the road, emergency vehicles, flying debris, following a specific route (the road), or other drivers. Panicked driving can lead to fatal car accidents, and put others in danger. A vehicle can be swept up and tossed several hundred feet by a small tornado, even if the funnel cloud appears far away. Cars can also be damaged by debris and become disabled, blocking roadways and putting the occupants and other motorists in danger.
Never leave the protection of a sturdy building to escape in a vehicle. An interior room, preferably in the basement (or lowest floor) is the best place to be in a tornado. Vehicles offer very limited protection during a tornado. Whether you are in a car or not, if you are outside, seek suitable shelter immediately.
Because tornadoes cause changes in atmospheric pressure, it is believed that the difference between the inside and outside air pressures can cause a home to explode outward. This is false. In even the most violent tornadoes, the differences in pressure rarely exceed 10%, which most frame homes could withstand with closed windows. The “explosion” like damage can be attributed to disintegrating roofs and walls that have blown inwards into homes, causing the other three sides to fall outwards, creating the appearance of a house that has exploded. Not only does opening windows cause more damage to the interior of the home by allowing rain and wind inside, it also wastes valuable time that should be spent seeking shelter. Additionally, being near windows in a storm is dangerous as it potentially exposes occupants to flying glass.
In general, there is no guaranteed safety when in the path of a tornado. With winds up to 300 miles per hour, these forces of natures can derail trains, rip up highways, and destroy skyscrapers. But preparedness is the best way to increase your chances of survival. Knowing where to shelter is an essential part of tornado safety. If you live in a mobile home or are planning on traveling in a vehicle, make sure you have an evacuation plan and pick suitable shelters before an emergency takes place. A car or mobile home offers very little protection during a storm as they can be easily damaged, rolled, or thrown by weak tornadoes. Practicing a tornado drill with your family and coworkers will help educate them with what to do if a tornado does form. Finally, pay attention to weather forecasts and storm watches & warnings as these will provide you and your family more time to get to a safe location.
Edwards, Roger. “The Online Tornado FAQ.” The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC). NOAA, 1 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017. http://www.spc.ncep.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/.
“Tornadoes.” Tornadoes | Ready.gov. Department Of Homeland Security, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017. https://www.ready.gov/tornadoes.
“Tornado Myths.” Storm Aware. State of Missouri, n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. https://stormaware.mo.gov/tornado-myths/.
US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Weather Service. “Highway Overpasses as Tornado Shelters: Fallout From the 3 May 1999 Oklahoma/Kansas Violent Tornado Outbreak.” National Weather Service. NOAA’s National Weather Service, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017. https://www.weather.gov/oun/safety-overpass.
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Plumbing fixture failures and faulty installations are a leading cause of interior water damage in homes and businesses. Even in the warmer months, when frozen pipes are not a threat, costly losses can arise from what would appear to be simple plumbing problems. Minor leaks and clogs should be taken care of properly as they may be signs of more serious issues.
If a pipe, appliance, hose, or fixture contains running water, it needs to be properly maintained to prevent any water related losses. The list below contains the places where failures are most likely going to happen if not kept in working order.
Clogs and overflowing toilets made up 33% of all toilet failures that led to water damage. The valves and flushing mechanism of every toilet in your building should be inspected every six months to ensure they are working and show no signs of wear. The shut off valve should be easy to turn and the supply line should be able to be turned off as well.
Drains & Pipes
Banging pipes, increased water bills, rust stains, and moisture on walls and floors are all signs of plumbing and drain problems. Keep drains and pipes clear of obstructions, and never pour grease down a drain. Have a backflow prevention system installed in your sewer connection if your home or business is located downhill or below street level. For an extra security measure, have a house leak detection system installed.
Failure of the hose which supplies water to a washing machine is a leading cause of water damage. The hose should be replaced if there are cracks or blisters, and/or if the tubing appears worn. This should be done every five years or when the situation merits. If you are planning on vacating the building for a long period of time, turn off the water supply valves. When doing the laundry, do not overload machines and only use detergents designed for this type of use.
Like any piece of equipment, age is an important factor in the odds of a mechanical failure. Even with proper maintenance, water heaters need to be replaced after they reach their life expectancy (typically around 10 years – check your manufacturer for model-specific information). In addition, water heaters should be inspected by a plumber every year for broken valves, loose joints, and rust.
You can learn more about how you can prevent plumbing systems from causing water damage to your building by accessing the IBHS’s website.
“Plumbing Archives – IBHS.” IBHS. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.
(Photo Credit: Flickr)
During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.
Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:
- Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
- Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
- Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
- Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
- Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks
Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.
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Once all of the snow melts and the temperatures begin to rise, it’s always a good idea to conduct a bit of spring cleaning. And while you and your family are dusting around the house and donating old clothes, it is also a good idea to review your current insurance policies and make sure their coverages are still adequate. If you have recently made improvements to your home, bought an expensive piece of jewelry, or plan on going somewhere for vacation this summer, now is a good time to talk to your agent to ensure you’re fully covered. The Insurance Information Institute has a quick spring cleaning insurance coverage checklist to help you decide if your policies need a bit of spring cleaning this year. You can view the list here.
It’s time to “spring forward” for daylight saving early this Sunday morning, March 13. Since it occurs twice a year, daylight saving is the perfect time to perform basic maintenance in and around your home:
- Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check to see if they have expiration dates, and change the batteries.
- After a winter of using your fireplace or wood stove, have your chimney cleaned and inspected.
- Clean out dryer vents and hoses to prevent lint buildup and potential fire hazard. Read more dryer safety tips here.
- Check your fire extinguishers’ gauges to make sure they are still charged sufficiently. If they’re low, contact your local fire department to find out where to recharge them. Extinguishers must always be recharged after use. Make sure one is always easily accessible throughout your home.
- Get ahead of the crowd. If your roof needs fixing or replacing start contacting contractors now. Read the 10 question to ask a roofing contractor.
- Check outside railings, stairs, and walkways if you have them for needed repair after the winter.
- Check trees for signs of damaged branches that might need to come down. Consider contacting a tree professional.
- Perform spring maintenance on appliances and home systems:
- Change filters in your HVAC systems as needed, or have them serviced.
- Clean your refrigerator—wipe down the inside and vacuum underneath and behind to ensure optimal operating efficiency.
- Drain the water heater to flush out sediment.
(Did you know that sudden damage to these home systems and appliances caused by accident, breakdown, or human error is typically not covered under most warranties or service contracts? Repairs can often cost thousands of dollars. Read more on how to protect these systems.)
- Change your windshield wiper blades. If you have snow tires, plan to remove them as the weather gets warmer and snow and ice are no longer on the horizon.
- Contact your insurance agent to review your coverage to make sure it’s still adequate, especially if you’ve had any major purchases or life events in the last year.
Daylight saving is a helpful calendar reminder to do these routine maintenance tasks. We’ll make sure to publish one in the fall as well, which will be somewhat different due to seasonality.
(Photo Credit: iStock)
Did you know failure to properly clean and maintain a clothes dryer is the leading cause of a dryer fire? Here are some precautions to help prevent these fires:
- Have your dryer installed and serviced by a professional, and make sure it’s properly grounded
- Don’t use the dryer without a lint filter, and make sure to clean the lint filter before or after each load of laundry
- Remove lint that has collected around the drum and wash the filter screen to remove chemical residue every six months. Vacuum the motor area to remove dust and lint. (You may have to remove a panel.)
- Use rigid or flexible metal venting material to vent outside. Vacuum out accumulated lint twice a year.
- Make sure that the outdoor vent flap isn’t blocked or covered and will open when the dryer is operating, especially when snow starts to pile up.
- Clean commercial dryer vents regularly—they get a lot of use and have a common venting system.
- Don’t overload your dryer.
- Turn off the dryer if you’re going out and when you are going to bed.
These tips are courtesy of the Office of the State Fire Marshall, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Fire Protection Association. To find more detailed information, view these NFPA dryer-safety tips.
(Photo Credit: IBHS)
Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.
- For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
- Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
- Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
- Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
- Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).
During periods of severe cold:
- Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
- Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.
Before leaving for an extended period of time:
- Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
- Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
- Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
- Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.
My Pipes Froze. Now What?
Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.
For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
If this coming winter’s temperatures are even half as cold as last year, we’ll once again be doing everything we can to stay warm. For this, many turn to alternative forms of heating such as fireplaces, space heaters, boilers, and traditional wood or pellet stoves.
Wood or pellet stoves are an increasingly popular form of alternative or supplemental heating during the cold season, but like every form of heating, they must be used with care. As the prevalence of these stoves has increased, so has the number of fires caused by their misuse or improper installation and maintenance. If you plan on heating your home with a wood or pellet stove, make sure you take the necessary precautions by following the tips below:
- Install the stove in a central room to maximize heating effectiveness.
- Make sure your stove and chimney are Underwriters Laboratories tested and approved.
- Hire a professional chimney sweep to keep the chimney’s flue and stove pipe clean and remove any blockages, oils, or creosote that may have built up.
- Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, especially in the room where the stove is located.
- Use only the fuel type (wood, corn, pellets, coal, etc.) the stove is specifically designed to burn.
- If you are using wood, make sure it is dry and well-seasoned.
- Non-flammable floor protection such as tile should extend out at least 18 inches on all sides of the stove.
- Always keep flammable materials away from any heating source.
- Never use liquid fuel such as kerosene in a stove.
- Prevent small children and pets from getting too close to the stove by putting up a non-flammable safety gate.
- Run the stove only when your home is occupied.
- Check the charge on your fire extinguisher to make sure it is full and ready to use in case of emergency.
Before installing a new stove in your home, check to make sure the installation will comply with your local fire and building codes and always hire a licensed and insured installer.