Be Prepared for House Fires

If you follow these simple fire safety tips you'll be ready for house fires.

| February/March 1994

  • 142 fire safety tips - burning house
    Of all the fire safety tips you can teach your family, the most important is how to get out of a house fire quickly and not hesitate for valuables.
  • 142 fire safety tips - fire extinguisher
    Merely owning a fire extinguisher isn't enough. You need to practice using it.

  • 142 fire safety tips - burning house
  • 142 fire safety tips - fire extinguisher

Greybump, our young tomcat, gave the first alert. My then-wife, Debra, was up late reading while a load of laundry finished. "Bump" began darting about the room, jumping on the furniture, and muttering to himself as kittens will. But when he began throwing himself at Debra's legs and yowling, she took notice. She assumed he was having a "cat spazz" (as the kids call it) and brushed him off: He became louder and more persistent till she finally got up to let him out. But he refused to leave the house and kept yowling and running toward the back of the house.

Debra followed him. She noticed a peculiar odor in the laundry room and began to worry that she had overloaded the washing machine. When the washer began to groan and the lights in the kitchen began to flicker and dim, she woke me up. Groggy, I came downstairs and we tried to identify the problem—the odor in the laundry room smelled like an overtaxed rubber drive belt to me. Was the problem in the house, on the pole, or perhaps an outage up line? I realized I first had to check the main electrical panel in the cellar, just under the laundry room. When I opened the door, a cloud of gray smoke rolled up the steps and into the kitchen.

House Fire!

Fighting panic, Debra and I ran upstairs as the house lights went out. As she roused four sleepy youngsters into a hand-in-hand fire-drill formation and led them to the front hall, I grabbed the large electric lantern I keep beside the bed. Still groggy, I couldn't locate our extinguisher. Debra handed me the little halogen fire extinguisher we keep beside the wood stove and I ran back to the cellar.

The smoke—so thick that the lantern beam carried only a few inches—had the unmistakable acrid odor of an electrical short. I groped my way along the cellar posts supporting the old chestnut beams to the main electric panel against the east cellar wall. Smoke was billowing from the top of the panel, but through it I could see bright sparks. I not only heard the snap of an arcing electrical short circuit, but also the crackle of a wood fire. Filled with fear and resolve I yelled: "Get 'em out; we have a fire," and sent my family out into the New England chill.

I groped my way back upstairs and tried the telephone ... dead. I ran to the front door. The kids, huddling under a maple, said Debra was on her way to the neighbors to call our volunteer fire department. I rushed back into the smoke. The arcing crackle was louder, the sparks brighter, and the smoke thicker. To be ready for a potential fire caused by our wood stove, I'd practiced with the extinguisher.

Although my lungs burned and my eyes were streaming from the smoke, I was able to snap the tab, depress the handle, and aim the powder stream into the heart of the fire. The flames and smoke diminished but the arcing didn't stop.

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