'Be Healthy, Stay Healthy' Issue 5: Fire Prevention is Key to Saving Lives

'Be Healthy, Stay Healthy' Issue 5: Fire Prevention is Key to Saving Lives

Powered by Access Health, a project of the BPJCC


Between burning the chometz, Lag Baomer bonfires, summer cookouts, Chanukah menorahs, not to mention the weekly Shabbos blech, fire is an important part of Jewish life.

So is fire safety. While a cottage industry has sprung up around fire safety, which the community largely adheres to, every fire is one too many and one which is avoidable.

House fires are a common cause of death and injury in the United States. Each year, more than 3,000 Americans die in fires. Alarmingly, at least one child dies every day from a fire inside a home. Fortunately, there are many steps that can be taken to protect yourself and your family 

One of the most important steps is to install smoke alarms and keep them in good working order. These can be purchased at most hardware stores at a usual cost of $10 or less. In some places, fire departments give out and install free smoke alarms.

Smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom or area where someone sleeps. There should be one alarm for every level of your home. Consider installing them in playrooms and basements as well. 

Alarms should be tested monthly and come equipped with a test button to help do this. It is best to use smoke alarms that have long-life batteries, but if you do not, change the batteries at least once a year such as Sukkos and Pesach. Alarms should be completely replaced every 10 years.

Pesach and Sukkos are also good times to practice family fire drills. Have an escape plan and practice it with your family. If a fire occurs, there will be no time for planning an escape. The plan should include two ways how to exit any room, as well as identify any staircases that may need to be used in an apartment building. Agree on a meeting place. Choose a spot outside your home where everyone can meet after escaping, such as near a certain tree, street corner or fence. Teach your children that the sound of a smoke alarm means to go outside right away to the chosen place. 

Everyone should know the way to call the fire department. This is not a time to call Hatzalah, since seconds can make a big difference in getting the fire extinguished and getting everyone to safety. Teach your children that firefighters are there to help and they should never hide from them.

Of course, even the most excellent plans are useless if they are not practiced. Set up realistic scenarios, block certain exits, and get everyone used to getting out of the home quickly and calmly. The more prepared your family is, the better your chances of surviving a fire. Tailor the plan to meet the needs of the family. Families with babies, toddlers or children with special needs should plan accordingly and designate an adult or older child to help with rescue. 

Prevention of fires and fire safety education is an incredibly important step in protecting your home, your family and yourself.

What to Do if a Fire Breaks Out

While prevention is key, and practicing fire drills is important, knowing what to do in case of a fire can also be lifesaving

First, test any closed doors with the back of your hand. If it feels hot or you see smoke, do not open the door. Close all doors as you leave each room to keep the fire from spreading.

Crawl on the ground to the safest exit. Smoke rises, so you are safest closer to the ground. If you must escape through a smoky area, remember that cleaner air is always near the floor. Teach your child to crawl on their hands and knees, keeping their head less than two feet above the floor as they make their way to the nearest exit.  

Don't stop. Don't go back. In case of fire, do not try to rescue pets or possessions. Once you are out, do not go back in for any reason. Firefighters have the best chance of rescuing people who are trapped. Let firefighters know right away if anyone is missing.

If a person’s clothes catch on fire — stop, drop and roll. Drop to the ground where you are and roll over and over to put out the flames. Cover your face with your hands. 

To treat a burn, run cool running water over it for five minutes. Never use ice as it can cause further damage. Cover the burn with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth. Do not apply ointments or butter to a burn; these may cause infection. If a burn needs medical attention, it may be cleaned, and dressings such as silver sulfadiazine or honey might be recommended. While there are some cases of potato and potato skin dressings helping wounds heal, this can risk infection and in general is not recommended for routine burn wounds.


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