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Summertime: No Vacation for Fire Prevention

(Appeared in July 2016 issue of The Dispatcher)

marty-kingFor many, summertime is a time of fun-filled weekends and vacations. It’s a time when we can relax and enjoy the warm weather. But we also must remember that fire prevention does not take vacations. We must be diligent to remind them people about the basics of fire prevention: spacing flames away from combustibles, never leaving fires unattended, and always having a means of extinguishing fires.

One of the most popular summer activities involving fire is grilling. Many people look at the flames in a grill as a contained fire, but they should also be treated as a potential source of a problematic fire. We must always employ fire safety when using any cooking appliance, as the danger is always present. Grills should maintain appropriate distances from combustibles, keeping them away from siding, deck rails and overhangs. The fire prevention code requires at least 10 feet of distance from any structure (home, garage, fence, etc.) and does not allow them on balconies or decks. Also, it’s important to keep a three-foot-perimeter safe zone around grills to keep kids and pets safe. If using a charcoal grill, spent coals should be placed in a metal can with a lid once they have cooled. Remember that even coals that are cool to the touch can start a fire days after use. To prevent grease fires, grills should be cleaned after each use.

Open flames such as candles or patio torches also pose potential risks. Candles should remain at least one foot away from combustibles. Due to the larger wick and flame on a patio torch, three feet of space is necessary. This protocol also includes patio heaters and outdoor fire pits used for heating during those cooler summer nights. Fire pits should be treated like grills and need to be at least 10 feet from structures. The larger the fire, the more distance from structures (up to 25 feet away).

Whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural setting, you are subject to the potential of an outdoor fire affecting your home. When I was with the West Allis Fire Department, it was not uncommon to see patio or deck fires migrate from outside to the inside of homes. The common causes were cigarettes, candles, charcoal grills and fire pits. Contributing factors were combustibles too close to flames or heat sources, as well as flames being left unattended. Education would help prevent many of these fires. By practicing simple fire prevention practices most of the fires would never have occurred.

The next step beyond education is fire suppression. By simply having a fire extinguisher or garden hose on a patio or near the source of flames, attended fires can be controlled. In cases throughout Wisconsin, fire sprinkler systems inside homes have stopped outdoor fires at the patio door and prevented them from entering the homes. The installation of fire sprinklers in homes, as well as recent requirements for fire sprinkler coverage on exterior balconies, has provided a superior level of fire suppression before fire department arrival.

Fire safety information is available at National Fire Protection Association or the U.S. Fire Administration.

For more information on how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please email me or visit National Fire Sprinkler Association – Wisconsin Chapter, National Fire Sprinkler Association, and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

-Marty King, State Coordinator, NFSA-WI


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