We had a great chance to sit down and chat with Lisa Braxton from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA for short) about some key fire safety tips for the backyard as well as the house in general. The National Fire Protection Association is a not-for-profit organization focused on making sure the public is well informed and prepared to deal with fire safety situations. Should we happen to encounter any kind fire hazard in our lives, the NFPA strives to ensure that we have the knowledge and tools to make the right decisions swiftly.
Now, we all know that backyards are no strangers to fire. Between all kinds of appliances like barbecues and firepits, to little accessories like torches and candles, a well maintained and supervised fire can be a great companion out in the backyard. However, this comes with the serious responsibility to keep things under control and follow all the proper steps. You are the master of your backyard and you cannot allow things to get out of hand. If you want an overview of the basics for various appliances, you should check out our introductory article on fire safety in the backyard.
Needless to say, Lisa had a wealth of knowledge on the topic and helped clarify some of the specifics for us. You can read on for the details or skip to the bottom to listen in on the conversation.
Smoke Detectors Are a Must
The first thing that came up was the critical importance of smoke detectors. Everyone needs them, no exceptions. Due to the lightweight construction of homes these days, residents may only have a few minutes to exit safely in case of a fire. This is why knowing immediately if something is wrong is of critical importance. That’s where the smoke detectors come in.
There needs to be at least one smoke detector on each floor. They need to be properly maintained and tested to ensure they are in working condition. Be mindful of battery life and change batteries when instructed. As well, smoke detectors also have finite life spans of about 10 years and should be replaced as indicated on the detector’s instructions. It’s very simple to test. All you need to do is press the test button or pay attention if you hear the ‘chirping’ that some models do when they need maintenance. Ever been around the house and hear your smoke alarm go off for a fraction of a second? That’s what that is!
It should be mentioned that it’s always a better idea to get the models that are interconnected. This way if one goes off, the others are notified and go off as well and you are not left wondering “what is that weird noise coming from the other side of the house?” when you should be making your exit. Finally, while one per floor is the rule of thumb, if your house is really big, your local fire safety inspector might recommend multiple smoke alarms for each level to get the extra coverage.
Do Fire Drills at Home
The one thing that is actually quite important, but we might not always think of, is actually doing fire drills at home. That’s right, we do fire drills at school and at work, so why not practice your exit strategy at home? Everyone benefits from knowing the best exits and paths to take in case of a fire emergency. This is because you don’t want to spend any time thinking about what to do when an actual fire takes place. You want to use all your available time getting to a safe spot. One of Lisa’s most crucial points of advice aside from having fire alarms is doing actual fire drills at home.
Pets During a Fire
An interesting point that came about is what to do with pets. Should pets be included in fire drills? Should we take time to chase down and grab all of our pets on the way out when exiting a burning building? It might be difficult to take in, but the answer is no. This is because pets have highly unpredictable behaviours in these situations. They often tend to run around and eventually hide. Trying to chase down your pets in this kind of scenario can actually be very dangerous because people succumb easily to smoke and carbon monoxide. Even if the flames aren’t everywhere and you can still walk freely, it is very easy for a person to become overwhelmed with smoke in a burning building. You don’t want this to happen because you are exposing yourself to a very high risk of suffocation or carbon monoxide poisoning, so even though you might want to take time to look for your pets, you would be walking into very serious danger.
The very good news about this entire thing is that pets are actually pretty smart and capable of escaping danger when it comes to it. So just because your cat or dog ran off during a house fire, that doesn’t mean they are doomed. In fact, they typically hide out somewhere and later jump out a window or dart out when they realize that the fire is closing in.
As far as pets are concerned, it is always recommended that you leave it to the fire department to get them out. We know it can be heartbreaking, and it’s a very hard thing to do, but you are not doing your pets or your family any favours by going into smoke filled rooms and exposing yourself to danger. You should keep in mind that fire departments are actually quite able to resuscitate pets if necessary. Lisa emphatically said that there are multiple cases of cats and dogs being successfully given CPR by emergency services on site, oxygen mask and everything. So that being said, all you need to do is make sure to let the fire department know about your pets and they will take care of it for you.
What About Fire Safety in the Backyard?
Now, indoors you have smoke alarms to let you know if something is going on, but what about in the backyard? When it comes to working with fire in the backyard, it’s all on you to be on top of the situation and spot any problems long before they become serious incidents. Doing so is actually pretty simple. All it requires is you to be patient and vigilant at all times. Always check the instructions for any fire appliance or fuel that you are using. At the same time, be sure to create a solid bubble of space around your backyard fire. Be sure to keep it away from the house, the eaves of the house, or any trees above.
You will also need to secure a child-free and pet-free zone around your fire with a radius of about 3ft. That means nobody is running around the fire and nobody gets closer than 3ft to the fire. The cool thing is that most local fire departments or inspectors provide lots of tips and additional information on how to set up your backyard fire safely. If you have any concerns about specifics (or if you are having trouble with setting up your equipment properly), you can always call or visit the website of your local fire department (or fire bylaw officer). This is great because an expert can guide you on the specifics, while also clarifying if there are any local rules, regulations, or permit requirements that you should be aware of.
Once everything is said and done, the one mission which is always ongoing is the fact that you cannot take your eyes off the fire or the grill until it is fully put out. You’re the grill master and the party host, so it’s your job to keep a steady eye on how the fire is doing. For additional info you can read more from our article on safety tips for fire pits and chimineas.
When Should You Call The Fire Department?
Should things start to get out of hand for any reason, the first thing to keep in mind is that you must remain calm but also move quickly. Always assess the situation rationally and as swiftly as you can to see if this is something you can contain on your own. There are lots of ways to cool down a fire that is getting slightly out of hand, the best one being a multi-purpose household fire extinguisher (which should always be part of your arsenal). Depending on the situation, it’s possible to smother the flames using sand, water, or a blanket. For barbecues, you can always shut the grill door and turn off the gas.
That all being said, however, if you have even a fraction of a doubt as to whether you can fully handle this, you MUST call the fire department. This is because fires grow and spread fast. These situations can go from 0 to 100 before you know it and you don’t want to waste time tackling a fire that is out of your league. A common mistake that everyone should be weary of is trying to be a hero. A lot of times people would see a fire getting out of hand and immediately think that they can or should handle it themselves. This is a critical and often costly mistake that people make, so if you have any feeling at all that you can’t fully extinguish the fire, by all means call the fire department.
If you happen to get a burn, immediately remove any jewelry around it and cool the wound down by soaking it in water. Afterward, apply clean gauze. Never use any kind of cream, oil, or ointment as that will actually make your burn worse. Just clean, cold water and clean dressing. However, if the burn either looks or feels really bad, you should seek medical attention asap.
How to Properly Put Out a Fire After You’re Done?
Now, assuming that everything is actually going ok and according to plan, putting out the fire once you’re done with it shouldn’t be too dramatic. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful and follow proper procedure. As mentioned, the best way to put out a fire in the backyard is using a multi-purpose fire extinguisher designed for the household. For barbecues or any appliances using gas, make sure that the valve is completely shut off and there is no more fuel being fed in. Once you’ve done that, let the grill (or whichever appliance you are using) cool down. By all means avoid propping it up against the house or against a tree until it is fully cooled down. This especially goes for the clay chimineas which are very good at retaining heat and stay hot for a while.
Clean out your appliance by scooping up the ashes, coals, or fire pellets that you used and putting them in a designated metal container. The container should be used only for this and should have a tightly fitting lid. You can soak the contents of the container with water just as an extra measure. When you’re done but the container at least 10ft away from anything that can catch fire. Of course, never ever dump ashes, coals, or pellets right into the trash. It will not be fun.
Similar to the points above, if you have any concerns you can contact your local fire department.
What’s New for the NFPA?
The NFPA is always striving to make sure people have access to the right information and resources regarding fire safety. They have done so for almost a century, being official sponsors of the national Fire Prevention Week as far back as 1922. They encourage public awareness of fire safety issues through a lot of initiatives such as open houses at fire departments as well as information sessions for schools, senior homes, and more. And of course, the materials and resources they provided are all conveniently available online for download. This is all to shed light on the fact that fire safety issues affect everyone out there and it is our responsibility to make sure we are well informed and well equipped to handle every situation.
As far as future plans go, Lisa elaborated on some exciting things. The NFPA is partnering with other organizations, including police forces and emergency services nationwide, to share knowledge and plan out the best procedures for reducing risk and handling emergencies. This includes some heavy duty upgrades going as far as using drones to tackle fire related emergencies.
All in all, however, the best and most valuable resource for fire safety is a knowledgeable and cautious public. The more we are all aware about fire safety, the more able we all are to handle situations when things get serious.
Check out our conversation below for the full scoop!