How do fires start?

        For a fire to start, it needs four things:

  1. Fuel – Something that can burn.
  2. Heat – to ignite the material.
  3. Air – to keep the fire going.
  4. Chemical reaction – fire.

        The first three are referred to as the “fire triangle.”

        When you keep the first three separate, you prevent the chemical reaction (fire) from happening. For example, a lit cigarette (heat) falls into the trash (fuel) and the presence of oxygen in the air causes a chemical reaction (fire).

        Fires are a serious threat to people who need assistance with moving quickly or have difficulty following directions. This is true of many clients of personal care agencies. Clients with mental illness or dementia, or who have functional impairments from any cause are at risk for injury. The risk increases dramatically with age. Persons 65 years of age and older are at two to five time greater risk to die in a fire than the rest of the population. What do you think causes these fires? Fires usually start from careless smoking, heating or cooking.

        Careless smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths and second leading cause of injury for older persons. Fires from smoking frequently happen in early morning, afternoon or late evening when people are sleeping or relaxing. Just imagine––a person sits down to relax and lights a cigarette, becomes drowsy and falls asleep. The risk increases if a person drinks alcohol or takes medications that cause drowsiness. Fires can start when persons who are smoking are unattended or unsupervised. Sometimes the person forgets to put out the cigarette or doesn’t completely put it out and the cigarette continues to smolder. A client may never smoke in his/her bedroom. Smoking in rooms where oxygen is being used is also a hazard. Every home is required to have smoking safety procedures and policies.

        Cooking is the leading cause of injury from fire and the third leading cause of death. Here are some specific cooking-related dangers:

  1. A person leaves a hot stove unattended for just a few seconds to answer the phone or to help someone in another room.
  2. Persons wear loose fitting clothing or long flowing sleeves while cooking.
  3. A person leaves hot mitts or paper towels near a hot stove and they ignite.
  4. The person cooking forgets to turn off appliances.
  5. The person leaves pot handles extending over the front of the stove where they can bump into them, causing a serious scalding burn. Turn all pot handles to the side or back of stovetop.

        Heating is the second leading cause of fire death and third leading cause of injury. Most of these fires occur in months when the weather is cold and heating devices such as space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves are used to add extra warmth. Portable space heaters are very dangerous and cause fires. Secure screens and protective guards are required for fireplaces and wood and coal burning stoves. If your client home has any of these heating sources, you will want to keep flammable items, such as newspapers or cleaning fluids, away from the heating source.

        Another source of fires is faulty electrical equipment. Electrical appliances are often used in cooking. You may also be using electrical appliances in the process of assisting clients with their activities of daily living. Some safety measures you can take to prevent electrical fires are:

  • Check all electrical appliances for frayed cords or damaged plugs before using.
  • Avoid overloading electrical circuits by plugging in numerous cords.
  • Do not try to repair electrical equipment yourself.
  • If an electrical appliance begins to “smoke,” turn it off, unplug and remove it.
  • Unplug a countertop appliance when the appliance is not in use.

        Since oxygen is one of the three things needed for fire to start, the presence of extra oxygen in the home when persons use oxygen is a special concern. You will want to make sure there is no smoking in areas where oxygen is being used. Matches, lighters, smoking materials and other flammable products like nail polish, alcohol and oils should be removed. Wool and synthetic clothing can create static. Clothing made of cotton is best to eliminate the risk of static and sparking. Electrical equipment like radios, toys and razors, can also create sparks.