The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 39 percent of house fires between 2007 and 2011 were linked to fireplaces. Unclean equipment was a major cause (57 percent) of many of these fires. But house fires are not the only fireplace safety risk. In fact, injuries from getting too close to the fireplace are even more common than house fires. Young children under the age of five suffer about 65 percent of these injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Many of these fireplace mishaps and tragedies are entirely preventable, by taking the right precautions to prevent house fires, burn injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Consider taking these six essential fireplace safety steps to help keep your family safe:
Service your fireplace annually.
Have a Chimney Safety Institute of America certified chimney sweep remove all debris from the chimney and check for signs of damage. This will greatly reduce the risk of a fire in the chimney and will ensure it is in working order. In addition to cleaning, chimney sweeps can find any problems and recommend necessary repairs, and even offer tips for ongoing maintenance based on your individual fireplace and how you use it.
Ensure proper clearance with combustible materials.
The top cause of fatal home heating fires is combustible materials placed too close to the fireplace or heater. According to the NFPA, 56 percent of all heating fire deaths occur because furniture, decor, clothing, bedding, or other combustible materials are within three feet of a heat source. While three feet is the recommended distance for space heaters, it is a good idea to give a fireplace more clearance. Do not fail to account for sparks that may fly out and ignite nearby materials.
Choose the right protective screen.
Fireplace screens keep both sparks in and little hands out. Beware of glass screens, though. According to watchdog group Fair Warning, about 2,000 children under the age of five suffered contact burns from glass screens over a ten-year period. Most glass screens sold today have a mesh screen that prevents direct contact with the glass, but many older screens lack this safety feature.
Always keep children as far away as possible from fires, even if you have a protective screen in place.
Use the damper properly.
Always open the damper before starting a fire, and leave it open until the fireplace cools. Proper ventilation is necessary to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. As an added layer of protection, it is a good idea to purchase, install, and maintain alarms to alert you to high level of carbon monoxide. This gas has no smell, and symptoms of poisoning are difficult to self-diagnose because exposure causes an inability to think clearly, among other symptoms.
Avoid the use of liquid accelerants.
Never use liquid accelerants in a fireplace. Instead, use newspaper or kindling to start the fire. Not only do liquid accelerants create dangerous fumes, they can also cause severe burns when vapors ignite. This is especially true when using gasoline or lighter fluid to rekindle a fire. If you use these accelerants for outdoor cooking, keep them as far away from the fire as possible.
Never leave a fire unattended.
Always ensure the fire is out completely before going to bed, leaving a child alone in the room, or leaving your house. Fires require supervision, so that you can react at the first sign of a problem. Be especially careful to always supervise small children and pets around a fire. It is also a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher on-hand and ensure your family knows how to use it in an emergency.
Also consider keeping a first aid kit handy for any minor burns, should they occur.
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