Most of us can remember learning fire safety in elementary school, whether it involved crawling through a “fire house” that simulated the smoke generated from a real fire, or learning the stop, drop and roll technique.
As adults, fire safety may not be at the forefront of our minds, but it’s important to refresh our memories to the dangers of fire.
Mid-February, the danger was felt close to home when two different apartment buildings on Cosburn Avenue near Pape were subject to fires in the same week. I spoke with firefighter Enn Valk, acting captain out of Hall 231 for the Toronto Fire Services about the five major causes of fire in apartments and how to avoid them.
“Unattended candles are huge,” Enn says. Many people enjoy the relaxing atmosphere a burning candle can create, but it only takes a split second for an unattended candle to cause a fire. As an alternative to candles, you could try the flameless kind that are battery operated and give off the same soft, soothing light as a real candle. If you must use real ones, make sure you don’t leave them unattended. If you have small children or pets make sure the candles are out of reach as they could be knocked over.
You can’t prevent or even be aware of faulty wiring, especially if you are renting an apartment or house. But you can take care with the power bars and plugs you use on a daily basis. Don’t overload your outlets and consider unplugging things you only use a few times a week. Enn points out the dangers of using outlet extenders that allow you to add outlets to a standard two-outlet wall plug. “You get four or five different outlets, and add another one and add another one and you end up with an electrical octopus overloading the electrical circuits.”
3. Lint Traps
If you are lucky enough to have a washer and dryer in your apartment, this tip is for you. “If people don’t clean the lint traps, all it takes is a tiny little spark from some place and it catches and smoulders. We get a lot of dryer fires. Just from a lack of looking after things,” says Enn. This one is easily avoidable. If you make the effort to clean out your lint trap every time you use the dryer, it will become an effortless habit. Make sure that anyone who shares use of the dryer in your building is aware of this potential hazard.
4. Cooking Fires
Enn says kitchen fires are also among the leading causes of apartment fires. “Carelessness around cooking, grease fires, things like that.” Again, it often comes down to leaving things unattended while you’re cooking. Stay alert to what is going on and be prepared to act if a fire does start. It’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Cooking timers are a great tool to use, so if you do happen to get distracted, the timer will go off and remind you there’s something on the stove.
5. Unsafe Storage
Beware of storing flammables near a heat source. In small apartments, people don’t have a lot of space so they are inclined to store things wherever they can, not thinking about what could be potentially flammable. Someone in a house with a basement could be especially at risk, Enn warns. “Don’t keep combustibles near a furnace. People love to store stuff in the basement, pack it all around the furnace and you’ve got something that’s flammable near the flame that’s going to be in your furnace. Not a good idea.”
Of course, the best way to prevent fires is through education. “Public education is huge. Educate people to the dangers of doings things that they may not even realize are dangerous. Educating kids about not playing with matches and candles. It’s about having respect for things that burn. Even just preventative things like having a fire extinguisher in your home, having smoke detectors that work, it doesn’t necessarily prevent the fire from starting but it will definitely help save your life.”