Posts Tagged ‘fire alarm’


5-point Safety Checkup for Daylight Savings Time Change

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017
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Emergency waiting to happenJust waiting for you to make a mistake!

It’s “Spring Forward, Fall Back” time here again this weekend. Along with re-setting the clocks, this time of year now has expanded to include reminders for emergency preparedness.

Of course, you know about checking the batteries in your smoke alarm. But that’s just the start! So read on, for some simple actions that if overlooked could put you in BIG trouble.

To the extent that your safety and security depend in part on your neighbors’ preparedness, be sure you share this list with them, too!

1-Change the batteries in your smoke alarm.

You should know this statistic from the National Fire Protection Association by heart: Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.  Nuff said?

And here’s a real life story to go with the statistic.

A couple of years ago on a Saturday, the local fire department, police department cadets, some EMTs, and the Red Cross, supported by our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, installed 461 new smoke alarms in our neighborhood! (Funded by a grant, in case you’re wondering.)

The alarm packaging said, “10-year guarantee” so naturally we were all annoyed when people began reporting that their smoke alarms were “chirping.”

Here’s what we discovered about alarms chirping:

  • Nearly all people who heard the chirping incorrectly identified where it was coming from! In nearly every case, it was from an already installed OLD alarm, and not the new one.
  • The 10-year guarantee works for the mechanism. When it comes to the battery, the guarantee applies only to alarms that have sealed lithium batteries. If your smoke alarm has a replaceable battery, check it and replace it or it will surely start chirping, like ours did, in the middle of the night!
  • Every battery has an indicated life. Just remember, you may buy new batteries today but you don’t know how much of that “life” has already expired while the battery was on a shelf somewhere.

Upshot? Simply replace your alarm batteries twice a year when the time changes. A few dollars invested can save your life.

2-Change the batteries in your walkie-talkies.

Same concept: when the emergency hits, if you don’t have fresh batteries, you may have lost an important tool.

Walkie-talkies take AA or AAA batteries. Over the years we have tested different brands and over the years the “winner” in the test has been different every time!

Get the right size, get the longest life available, and TEST them regularly. Every month we catch a couple of dead Walkie-Talkies during our monthly drill. (Of course, if people forget to turn the Walkie-talkies off after the drill, the chances of the batteries going bad are about 100%.) (And corroded batteries can destroy the walkie-talkie, too.)

Don’t have Walkie-talkies for your group or family? Here’s our walkie-talkie reviews to get you started on adding some.

3-Check your fire extinguishers and replace if they have lost pressure.

Fire extinguishers can last many years, but – Do you really remember when you bought yours?

A good extinguisher has a pressure gauge to help you track its functionality. Check the gauge when the time changes, if not more frequently. Not sure if the extinguisher is any good? Get a new one.

Looking to re-charge your extinguisher? We’ve looked, and haven’t found a reasonably-priced service. Maybe you can find one, but chances don’t seem to be very good.

4-Refresh your first aid kits.

We’ve written before about the drawbacks of most purchased first aid kits.

Still, you’ll want to start with a basic kit, and add your own enhancements.

At the left is a starter kit, available at Amazon, that looks even better than ones we’ve recommended before. Click on the image to get full details, but note to start with that this kit has soft sides with pockets labeled so you can see everything at a glance.  (Most of the inexpensive kits that I see are simply a zippered container with contents thrown in.)

Any first aid kit needs customization, and that’s where a regular check-up is important. At the time change, pull together all your kits (from your cars, your Go-Bags, etc.) and look in particular for . . .

  • Small medicine bottles whose contents have dried up completely.
  • Tubes of medicine that have been accidentally crimped or punctured and are oozing gook.
  • Band aids that have torn packaging and thus have lost sterility and stick.
  • Pills that have expired.
  • Scissors or other tools that have mysteriously developed spots of rust.

Repeal and replace as appropriate!

5-Clean out coils and filters to prevent fire.

We’re talking refrigerator, heater, and clothes dryer. All these collect dust and lint in hard-to-see and harder-to-get-to places, and can overheat or even (in the case of the dryer) burst into flames.

Enlist help to move or open any pieces of equipment or access doors, and attack with the wand and the crevice tool of your vacuum cleaner.

When you’ve finished vacuuming, empty its dust container and replace the filter in the vacuum, too.

While we’re on vacuum cleaners, a couple more safety notes:

  • Don’t leave a vacuum cleaner running while you go to another room. It can overheat and start a fire! (Just go onto YouTube to see a number of dramatic examples. . .!)
  • Check the cord and plug of your vacuum to be sure they aren’t damaged or frayed. These cords get hot! (Even the cord of my quite new Navigator gets really warm, just from being in normal use.)

That’s it.

You may have discovered that your 60 minute time change job has turned into a multi-hour project!

However, once you’ve gone through the steps once, it’ll be easier next time. Also, you may be able to turn the whole thing into a family bonding exercise by delegating different jobs to different family members, and presenting it as a contest!

However you get through the 5-point list, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your home is good to go for another six months. And you won’t be caught by an emergency just waiting to happen — as represented by the eager dinosaur in the picture!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Fire Danger in High-rise Buildings

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
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High rise fire
Intro: At Emergency Plan Guide, we try to write about subjects we know something about from personal experience. (It helps to be “a mature adult!”)  But until we become paid reality-show stars, some things we have to write about as observers.

The news is often an inspiration. Last week I wrote about hurricanes — though I have never lived through one. This week, it’s a fire in a high-rise.

The closest I’ve been to that is living through a fire on a ferry boat — not exactly the same thing, but certainly some similarities.

The point of all this? My own experience may be limited, and the risks that I face may be limited. But we all will  face a variety of emergencies FOR THE FIRST TIME. I’m convinced that simply being open to ever more more knowledge gives us a better chance of surviving. That’s what keeps me learning and writing.

With that, here’s this week’s offering. 

_________________________________________

The high-rise apartment building fire in London was horrifying. And deadly. When I started this Advisory – 3 days after the fire – the number of people missing and presumed dead had risen to 58. As of today, 2 days later, it is now at 79 missing and presumed dead.

High-rise fires are alarming but infrequent.

High-rise fires are always particularly horrifying. We all picture flames shooting up the sides of buildings, far above the street, and we can imagine the terror of the people trapped inside.

Still, with the exception of terrorist acts, the threat posed by fires in high-rise buildings isn’t as great as that in low buildings.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in all the structure fires in a year, around 2,600 people die – but only 40 of them are in high-rise building fires.

Moreover, the NFPA says the danger of fire in high-rises is going down.

Why? It’s a function of old buildings being replaced by newer ones.

Modern high-rise buildings have fire-suppression protections that work.

If you’ve read the details about the London fire, you will discover that the 24-story Grenfell Tower did NOT have such protections. According to news reports:

  • Only one stairwell was available for residents.
  • There was no sprinkler system.
  • Recent “upgrades” to the building included a plastic-filled cladding material that was not fire-resistant.

What do you know about the building you are about to enter???

Safety depends on the building codes in effect.

In the United States, national and state codes regulate new construction and, to a certain extent, upgrades or retrofits. Generally, these codes apply to different aspects of the building – some of which we, as consumers, may be aware of, and other that are hidden from sight but just as important.

Outside the U.S., codes and standards may be different. For example, in the case of the London fire, the new cladding would not have been allowed in the U.S. (A visitor to the building wouldn’t have known that. Even the residents of Grenfell Tower, who had requested fire-resistant upgrades, may not have realized that their new cladding did not meet that standard.)

So, whether living, working or traveling, here are some questions to get answered before you stay in a high-rise building.

It’s good practice to answer these every time you enter a high-rise building!

1-Is there a fire alarm or smoke alarm system?

Easy enough to find out. If you don’t see installed alarm buttons, just ask!

2-Is there a fire sprinkler system?

An alarm doesn’t fight a fire!

So, look up and see if you can identify sprinklers. These are the key safety feature – in fact, they have been determined to be 97% effective in suppressing fire. (The other 3% didn’t work because they water supply wasn’t hooked up right, or the system wasn’t properly maintained.)

Don’t see any sprinkler heads? Are they blocked by furniture or decorations? Ask property management if a system has been installed.

This is the very most important feature for high-rise fire safety! No sprinkler? Don’t stay!

(An older building can be retrofitted with a fire sprinkler system. Unfortunately, it costs many times more to put in after the fact that if it had been incorporated into the original building. So, building owners may resist adding systems if the law doesn’t require it.)

3-Where are the fire exits?

Look for signs. Identify more than one exit. Check diagrams of the building so you would know which way to go if you couldn’t see because of darkness or smoke.

4-Where are the stairwells?

Again, note the PLURAL word. Every high-rise building needs more than one set of stairs. Note where stairs are located so if you need to evacuate, and one set of stairs is blocked, you can go down the other. (Remember, in a fire, one stairwell may be reserved for use by fire fighters.)

5-Are there fire doors in the hallways?

Modern buildings include fire doors that close in the case of a fire, keeping it from spreading. Usually, these doors are held open electromagnetically, and if a fire alarm goes off the circuit is broken and the door closes by itself.

Bad sign: Fire doors are blocked so they cannot close.

Again, under normal circumstances you may never notice these doors because they are “hidden” by the décor. However, it is good to know that in an emergency you may come upon a door that you didn’t expect.

6-How would people with a disability be assisted in case of a fire?

While you may see special signs for emergency procedures for people in a wheelchair, etc., it is up to you to figure out how you will handle an emergency.

Other fire safety features to look for, in any building.

1-What is the maximum occupancy?

Overfilled rooms, theaters, restaurants, stadiums, etc. may be more dangerous if there is panic. Be aware of where exits are located, and in an emergency do not automatically head for the door where you came in. Is there a better exit option?

(In my experience it’s fun and valuable to train children on a regular basis to look for multiple exits. As you settle down in movie theater seats, ask, “How many exits do you see? Or, how many ways to do you see that we could get out of here?”)

2-Where are fire extinguishers?

In a commercial building in the U.S., there’s sure to be one not far away!

Usually, local fire codes require that fire extinguishers be installed based on square footage, and they also require that you be able to find one no more than 75 feet away. (“75 feet” is only an example. Specifics may change slightly in a different state and in a different type of building.)

In any case, when you enter a building or room, it’s a good idea to look around to see if you can locate the nearest hand-held extinguisher.

This assumes you know HOW TO USE an extinguisher, of course.

What to do if there is a fire in a high-rise?

Fire experts still say “shelter in place” is the best advice IF THE BUILDING HAS PROPER FIRE SUPPRESSION PROTECTION.

(Stuff towels under the door to block smoke from entering, stay alert for instructions.)

Sprinkler systems have been in use for over 100 years. They provide 24/7 protection, turning on automatically when sprinkler heads reach a certain heat level. Fires can be caught and put out without people even realizing it until later.

Once again, if you plan to visit or stay in a high-rise building without a sprinkler system, think twice. Think three times!  You may want to find another option.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Want more information about fires and how to avoid a disaster? Check out these Advisories:

Whoops, did you miss it like I did?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
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We remind everyone that when Daylight Savings Time comes round, it’s time to check the fire alarms.

So it’s now two weeks after the date, and I finally got around to practicing what I preach. Keep reading for what turned out to be an eye-opener!

Just looking up at the smoke alarm tells me nothing.

Testing Fire Alarm - Emergency Plan GuideI seem to recall that my old alarms had a blinking light, but I see nothing like that on this one. My old alarm also once emitted a chirping sound — but I have heard nothing from this one.

Anyway, on with the test.

  • I haul out my trusty step stool, position it properly and climb up.
  • I look for the round test button (while being careful not to overbalance).
  • Hey, look there! I discover a green light, deep in a recess. Is this what I was looking for?
  • Well, since I’m up here . . .I press and hold the round button.
  • Eeeeehhhh!

O.K., we know it’s working!

Now what about the other alarms in the house? Before I take a look at them, let me do some quick research.

I always thought fire alarms were pretty straightforward.

Here’s what I discover about the alarms in my house.

  1. Code for fire alarms changes on a regular basis. My home is relatively new, so it has hardwired alarms that have a back-up battery. It’s that battery that we’re testing. (There are also alarms that operate solely on batteries. I used to have that kind.)
  2. In my home, all the alarms all hooked together. If one goes off, so do the others. Still, I have to check each one individually to be sure about the batteries.
  3. The very latest requirement for alarms indicates that starting 2015 alarms must have a non-replaceable battery that will last for 10 years. After ten years, the whole alarm will simply be replaced. Some of those alarms are already on the market. So the question then becomes, do I have one of these models in my house? It’s back up the ladder. And the answer is no.

But here’s the discovery of the day . . .

I have always used the words “fire alarm” and “smoke alarm” and “smoke detector” pretty much interchangeably. It turns out that alarms are NOT all the same.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) there are two main technologies at work in fire alarms: ionization (alarm is set off when ion flow is interrupted by smoke) and photoelectric (alarm is set off when light is reflected off smoke). (You can get the whole scientific description at http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/fire-and-safety-equipment/smoke-alarms/ionization-vs-photoelectric )

Ionization technology works best on a fast, flaming fire; photoelectric works better on slow, smoldering fires.

Logically, the very best fire alarm combines both technologies!

And also, logically, the combination models cost more – about 3 to 4 x more!

So what alarm technology do I have in my home?

Ta da! . . .Looks like ionization smoke sensing technology! (This model seems particularly made for home builders, since it comes in a six pack.)

Where does all this take us?

  1. Check your own fire alarms to be sure they are working.
  2. Check to see how old the alarms are and if they are over 10 years old, get rid of them an install new ones.
  3. Get the best replacements you can.I just added the best combination model I could find at Amazon to our Emergency Plan Guide store.  It’s called the First Alert 3120B Hardwire Photoelectric and Ionization Smoke Alarm with Battery Backup

You can click here to take a look at the store or click the name above to go directly to Amazon.

Let me know how your alarm testing goes!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team