Within the last few years (March 2013), in Sharon, Ontario, a small community just north of Toronto, four adult members of the Dunsmuir family died in a house fire.
They had a traditional two storey house, with smoke detectors on the second floor and in the basement wired into the home’s electrical system.
They had a main floor laundry room, and following the “save energy” programs suggested by Ontario Hydro, put on their dryer in the “off peak hours” and went to bed.
The dryer overheated, caused a fire, the fire melted the electrical wires, which disabled the smoke alarms.
With four adults on the second floor, they huddled into a bedroom, and called 911 as the flames flew up the staircase. The fire department arrived 12 minutes later, but it was too late and lives of everyone had been lost.
This is all too common a set of circumstances. It seems to occur several times each year.
We should all take steps to protect ourselves, learn from their mistakes, that their lives not be lost in vain. They simply did what just about everyone would do.
So, here’s some do’s and don’ts:
· Get battery operated smoke detectors immediately
· Place them on every floor, including the main floor
· Don’t use the dryer at night (forget about the energy savings)
· Have a cell phone upstairs and available to call 911
· Have an escape plan from upstairs
· Have tools available so that you can break a window
These seem simple enough. But, people don’t have enough of them, or the batteries don’t work, or they are at risk of fire themselves.
So, this step is easy. Go to a hardware store and buy three, one for each level. Place them appropriately, where you think the smoke would flow. Remember, you are looking to follow the smoke, not the fire.
The big risk is really the smoke. If that is not detected, then the smoke will render someone unconscious., oftentimes, within a few minutes. If they are asleep, they just don’t wake up. Smoke inhalation can easily result in death, long before the flames arrive.
Make sure the smoke detectors are battery operated. This way they are not at risk to flames themselves before it’s too late. Smoke detectors that are wired into the electrical system are vulnerable.
Then, in terms of maintenance, make sure the batteries work! It’s easy to overlook this step, and remember, it’s just as easy to do it.
Pick a date once a year and check them. Perhaps, Boxing Day, you are at home and have nothing to do, or New Year’s day, or your birthday, or whatever day you will remember to replace them.
And, you are replacing them, not checking them, actually replacing them. If the batteries still have life, then use them in kids’ toys.
If there’s one room in the house that is risky, it’s probably the laundry room. The dryer is hot, don’t leave it on. The iron is hot, don’t leave it next to something that can burn.
Don’t forget that’s the place where you store all your toxic chemicals. Don’t let the pets knock anything over. And, if that’s where you have a week’s worth of old newspapers, maybe you should re-think the location.
Usually, there are several in a family. Charge them up overnight, in the bedroom, rather than downstairs. If there’s a fire, the house lines may be “down”.
Have an Escape Plan
You can’t go down the staircase. The hall is filled with smoke and the stairs are on fire. That was Plan “A”. You now need Plan “B”. That likely means that you are going out a window.
Can you open the window? Is anything stuck? Do you need tools? If so, get them and leave them there. It would make good sense to have a small hammer. That would break the glass if you need to. Leave the hammer nearby. Remember, you can’t use it, if it’s in the garage or the basement.
Look out the window. Can you reach the branch of a tree or jump to a first floor rooftop? If not, consider purchasing a foldable rope ladder. And, if you do, pull it out of the box and assemble it. You only have 5 minutes to get out the house, so this will not be the time to start reading instructions.
If you can’t get out the window, call an installer and replace the window.
Good luck. This is no time for procrastination.
Note: the actual cause of the fire in the Dunsmuir case has not been determined. All the possible issues in the laundry room were just pure speculation on my part, not that it really makes any difference.
Brian Madigan LL.B., Broker