Sunday evening around 9:30 pm, my wife and I were sitting in our living room watching a movie when we heard the sounds of a fire engine racing nearby and saw the flashing lights outside of our window. At first we didn’t pay too much attention to it, but a minute later a second, third, and more engines started to turn in across the street in our condo complex along with several police cars and ambulances. Before you could say holy sh*t, we realized that someone’s condo was in the middle of a serious blaze. It was a complete shocker and very scary.
Fires can happen, we all know that!
Living in a condo where over 400 units are so close together makes the thought of a fire even more dramatic. A fire in one home easily spreads quickly and can engulf an entire block of homes in a short period of time. Even if you live in a single family home on a plain somewhere in Montana, a fire can happen and kill someone or ruin your home and life.
It is a common sense subject, but everyone should have fire insurance as part of their homeowners or renters coverage. Unfortunately, many do not. More on that subject in a bit.
I am not a particularly nosy neighbor and when the crowds were forming outside, I didn’t race out there and get in anyone’s way just to find out the details. Of course I was concerned, but I knew that the professionals were on the scene and by midnight everything quieted down and all that remained were a few grey plumes of smoke that I could see above the tree line from my living room. The next day I learned all the details and it made me really think about the seriousness of it all. Fires and lack of safety precautions can cause death and property loss and steps must be taken to avoid those tragedies.
In fact, a 73-year-old woman, a neighbor that I didn’t know, died in that fire just a block away from my home, and several other families were displaced from their damaged homes as well.
The realities of home fires
Some quick facts about home fires may surprise you. Of all the deaths that occur in fires, 2 out of 3 of them could be totally avoided if occupants would only have taken some fairly simple precautions to prevent them from happening or had a plan to escape them. Taking a few minutes to prepare for a disaster like a fire and spending as little as $100 or less can change everything. It made me ask myself, “are we prepared for a worst case scenario when it comes to fire in my home?”
Where and why do fires happen?
Most fires in the home start in the kitchen (over 40% last year) and that was the case here in our community. Stovetops are the scene in most cases too. When cooking, people sometimes leave a fire burning on the range and walk away for a few minutes and that may cause a boil over or some other spill that starts a fire. Even a pet can cause a fire if they are curious and left unattended. Carelessness is the number one reason a fire happens.
Bedroom fires rank second to kitchen fires and 25% of the deaths from fires occur here. You may think that is caused by smoking in bed and falling asleep and you would be right as often it does.
Your first line of prevention should be smoke detectors. You should have a smoke alarm on every level of the house, including basements, and outside every bedroom, as well as carbon monoxide detectors. What I didn’t know is that smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years and carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every 7 years. So we just purchased a combo alarm for about $40. Whether you have a hard-wired or battery unit, check them routinely to make sure they are fully operational.
Another key element are fire extinguishers, which are available for as little as $20. You should have one for the kitchen and another for any upstairs bedrooms (where you should also have escape ladders). Fire extinguishers can be disposable or rechargeable. Disposable units should be replaced every 10 years, while rechargeable units may have a gauge to tell you when recharging is needed. Check with your local fire department as some offer free recharging.
Then there are common sense precautions. Pay attention to where things are located in your kitchen like paper products and food packages that are flammable. Grease around the stove needs to be cleaned up as a grease fire is one of the most difficult to control if it occurs. Even the clothing you wear can ignite if you aren’t careful.
The use of space heaters is another item that causes fires frequently. Using candles and leaving them unattended is another danger. You can get all kinds of information from your local fire department as to precautions you can take in order to be safe in your home. How many times have you ever asked them for advice?
Fire safety checklist and escape plans
Do you even have a fire safety checklist and escape plans?
As basic as it seems, many people have never thought about how they would escape from a fire in their home. Off the top of your head, you may figure you will just go out the front door. But what if you are upstairs, in your basement or just blocked from the exits because that’s in the path of the fire?
You should actually draw a map of several escape routes for your home depending on where the fires may be. Ultra-important is to review it with all family members, especially children. Think of it as the same as when you fly and they review emergency procedures before you even roll out of the gate. Being aware of these things can save a life.
For those who live in apartment buildings, your escape plan is even more important the higher you are in any building. If that’s you, you really need to review and practice emergency procedures now before you need them.
Everyone needs homeowners or renters insurance. The longer you are out living on your own, the more you need it. You are accumulating possessions, some very valuable, and that’s how you can help protect things. If items appreciate, like jewelry or even your home itself, you should review your coverages and make any necessary adjustments. Although it can be a little expensive, it really is a no brainer and a requirement to have it. Tragically, one of the displaced families didn’t have any coverage at all.
One word of caution on any policy you buy. Make sure you understand all the exclusions that your policy doesn’t cover at all. These exclusions are spelled out in a policy, but they may be in “insurance speak”, a language you may not fully understand. If you are a victim of an “act of God” like a flood, you are probably out of luck unless you have a flood-specific policy. Sometimes the exclusions are numerous and a bit unfair, but that may be the only reason the deal sounds so sweet. It may be worth a few extra dollars to gain specific coverages that you need in your area or to cover your specific lifestyle!
This tragedy that occurred so close to home made me take a hard look at my readiness to deal with a fire. In fact, I checked our kitchen extinguisher and found it needed a recharge. Our smoke detector was over 10 years old and needed replacing. Our insurance policy needs to be reviewed more carefully and revised, especially with the complexities involved with a condominium. In all, I learned that I wasn’t as prepared as I should be.
Have you prepared for fire safety in your home? Do you have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers? Do you have homeowners or renters insurance coverage? When was the last time you reviewed your coverages and your plans in case of emergency?