House and apartment fires are all too common in Chicago, especially during the winter months. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Illinois suffers more fire-related casualties than the national average. In 2018, National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data shows that there are 3.5 deaths and 15 injuries per 1,000 fires in Illinois. This is significantly higher than the national average of 2.6 deaths and 10 injuries per 1,000 fires.
From January through August of 2022, there have been 58 civilian home fire fatalities in Illinois reported in the news. Fifteen of these deaths took place in Chicago and of these, 6 were children aged 14 or younger and four were adults aged 65 or older.
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As we head into the colder months, it is important to be extra vigilant about fire safety in our homes. This can help protect the most vulnerable groups in our community, like children and seniors, and keep every family member safe.
The following is a home fire safety checklist of recommendations from the Chicago Fire Department and The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshall to help keep your home and family safe this winter and throughout the rest of the year. It includes simple fire prevention practices, like installing a smoke alarm or smoke detector on every level of your home and having a home fire escape plan.
The Chicago Fire Department reminds you to check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and make sure they are in working order. It is also a good idea to test your smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least twice a year. Don’t ignore a smoke alarm low battery warning chirp and replace smoke alarms as needed if they stop working. Also be sure to have a working fire extinguisher or fire blanket near any potential fire hazards, like your kitchen to help prevent fire damage.
If you do not have smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, or carbon monoxide alarms, now is the time to get them installed. In some cases, your landlord may be responsible for this. Make sure to put working smoke alarms near sleeping areas so they can be heard at night. Install the smoke alarms near the ceiling and on each floor or your dwelling. The shrill beep of a smoke alarm can be the thing that saves your life and your family’s lives in the event of a fire.
Another important part of home fire safety and fire prevention is to make sure everyone in your household knows at least two ways to exit your home in the event of a fire. If you have small children, plan and practice a “fire drill” so they know how to follow the fire evacuation plan if there is a fire.
It is also important to make sure that all exits are clear and unobstructed. This includes windows, doors, and fire escapes if you live in an apartment building. Keep furniture and other items at least three feet away from windows and doors to ensure that they can be used as exits if necessary. Keep communal areas with fire doors or fire escapes free from obstruction as well.
If you live in an apartment building, make sure you know where the fire exits are and that they are clear of any obstacles. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the building’s fire safety plan.
In the event of a fire, it is important to have a family emergency plan in place. This should include a designated meeting place outside of your home where everyone can meet up if you need to evacuate.
It is also a good idea to have an emergency contact list with phone numbers for everyone in your family. This way, everyone can be reached if there is an emergency.
Make sure to practice your emergency plan regularly so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire.
It is important to educate children about fire safety and the dangers of playing with matches and lighters. Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children and in a safe, secure area.
Children should also be taught to never play with fire, including candles, stoves, and grills. If they see someone else playing with fire, they should tell an adult immediately. Make sure children are not left unsupervised in the kitchen or around other potential fire hazards.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles are a common cause of house fires, and on average there are twenty home candle fires are reported every day. So it is important to be careful when using them. Never leave candles unattended and make sure to extinguish them before leaving the room or going to bed.
Space heaters are another common cause of house fires. When using portable heaters, make sure to keep them away from flammable materials like curtains, furniture, and clothing. Never leave space heaters unattended and make sure to turn them off when you leave the room or go to bed to help prevent fires. Also be sure that they are working properly and their cords and cables are intact.
Other potential fire hazards include grills, cigarettes, and fireworks. Be sure to follow all safety precautions when using these items. Never leave grills, cigarettes, or fireworks unattended and make sure to extinguish them properly and have a fire extinguisher ready.
Flammable liquids like gasoline, kerosene, propane or oil-based paints should be kept away from heat sources like space heaters, stoves, and fireplaces. These items can catch fire easily and lead to a devastating fire.
Make sure to keep all combustible and flammable materials in a safe, secure area away from heat sources.
Cooking is one of the leading causes of house and apartment fires. To reduce the risk of a fire, never leave cooking unattended. If you have to leave the kitchen, even for a minute, turn off the stove.
Be sure to keep flammable items like towels and pot holders away from the stovetop. Keep the stovetop and oven clean of grease and other flammable material. A build-up of grease can easily catch fire. Keep a Class ABC fire extinguisher in the kitchen as these can be used on all types of fires including grease and electrical fires.
Smoking is another one of the leading causes of house and apartment fires. To reduce the risk of a fire, never smoke in bed or when you are drowsy. Make sure to extinguish cigarettes properly in a ashtray and never leave them unattended.
Be sure to keep lighters and matches out of reach of children. If you or someone you know is a smoker, consider quitting. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and quitting will not only reduce the risk of a fire, but it will also improve your health.
To reduce the risk of a fire, make sure all electrical appliances are in good working condition and are not overloaded. Never leave appliances like irons, hair dryers, or curling irons unattended. Be sure to unplug these appliances when you are not using them.
Make sure your home’s electrical systems are up to date and can handle the current load and be sure to have your furnace regularly serviced. If you are using extension cords, make sure they are not overloaded and are not being used for appliances that draw a lot of power like space heaters.
If a fire does occur in your home or apartment, be sure to stay calm and follow these steps:
Evacuate the building immediately. Do not try to fight the fire.
Close all doors behind you as you leave to help contain the fire.
Call 911 from a safe location.
If you are trapped, stay low to the ground where the air is cooler and breathe through a wet cloth, always carefully test doors for heat before attempting to open them.
If you must exit through smoke, hold your breath and crawl under the smoke to safety.
The Chicago Fire Department recommends you never hide, don’t waste time collecting valuables, don’t try to save pets, and never use elevators. Consider keeping important documents in a fire safe, so you don’t have to worry about them and can immediately enact your home escape plan in the event an alarm sounds and you need to escape a house or apartment fire.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a house or apartment fire, be sure to get help from the experienced Chicago burn injury lawyers at The Kryder Law Group, LLC. We can help you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact us today for a free consultation.