Ha. Ha. Fooled you into reading this column. Fire safety won’t do a single thing to help you seduce your favorite cutie (although fireplaces are very seductive). But, over the years, I have made a few observations that might make your life a little less ... combustible. Today, I will mention three.
First, my credentials: When I am not writing, I investigate the origin and cause of fires. I have been doing this for over 25 years. I am an International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) Certified Fire Investigator. That’s all you have to know. Now, listen:
ONE: UNPLUG YOUR TOASTER WHEN YOU AREN’T MAKING TOAST
Scenario: You have just come home from the market and are carrying a heavy paper bag filled with groceries. The telephone rings, so you thrust the bag onto the kitchen counter and rush out of the room. The call is from your attorney, informing you that Great Aunt Matilda has left you four million dollars in her will ... or it is from your son advising you that he is divorcing his wife and getting a sex change. Either way, it is a long conversation. Forty-five minutes into it, you smell smoke. You terminate the call and dial 911.
The fire department extinguishes the fire. Before leaving, they tell you that the fire began in the kitchen. But where? How? Why? The last page of my origin and cause report answers all of those questions: The fire started in the toaster.
Now you’re puzzled, because nobody made toast that morning. Nobody even thought about making toast. The cord of the toaster, however, was plugged into a wall outlet. And that, dear Watson, was the problem.
When you lowered your grocery bag to the counter, one stiff corner of the bag came into contact with the toaster’s elevator arm, depressing the lever and turning it on. With the corner of the bag still depressed, the elevator could not pop up after the toast cycle had finished, and the coils inside continued to glow red-hot. Then, one of two things happened. Heat from the toaster ignited the paper bag, or, as in a fire I once investigated, the counter under the toaster eventually reached ignition temperature. Either way, you had a fire.
TWO: DON’T TRUST ANYONE WITH AN ACETYLENE TORCH
Last week, a plumber came to my house to fix my leaky furnace. He decided that all he has to do was weld a joint where two pipes fit together. He took out his acetylene torch.
This would have been a good time to take a blood pressure tablet, update my property insurance policy, or change my will, because, unbeknownst to me, I had just invited a fire setter into my house. One who, at no time during his visit, followed any of the requirements in NFPA 51B Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work. He did not check his workspace to make sure that it was free of combustibles; he did not wet down the ceiling, walls or floors; he did not use fire retardant blankets or shields; and he did not cover openings in ductwork to prevent sparks from traveling to another area of the house. He didn’t even have a fire extinguisher or a water bucket nearby to extinguish sparks or flames.
So, I watched his every move and made sure that after he left nothing was smoking or still hot. I continued to check the area where the plumber had worked for a few more hours, because sparks can hide in insulation, behind walls, and above ceilings, smoldering for a long time before bursting into flames as destructive and deadly as those spewing from the tip of an acetylene torch.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, torches used to solder metallic plumbing systems are among the top-ten leading causes of house fires each year.
THREE: LOCK UP YOUR CHILDREN OR LOCK UP YOUR MATCHES
How would you feel if your child was playing with a live grenade? Scared witless, right? Well, in the wrong small hands, a box of matches, a cigarette lighter, or an ignition device can be equally deadly. Know how cartoon characters get blown up in explosions without getting hurt? In today’s movies and video games, fire is portrayed in the same way – as if it is a harmless fantasy. Warriors walk through flames, breathe in flames, see through smoke, and slay fire-breathing dragons … all without suffering as much as a blister.
To combat these dangerous illusions, Emmy Award winning journalist Dr. Frank Field had written and produced a no-nonsense DVD entitled FIRE IS ... This video is divided into five straightforward sections: Fire is Black - Fire is Hot - Fire is Fast - Fire is Smoke & Gas - Fire is Emergency.
The Uniformed Fire Fighters Organization of Greater New York promotes FIRE IS… on their website www.ufalocal94.org and says that, “the DVD debunks the myths of traditional fire safety education methods like ‘Stop, Drop & Roll’ in favor of teaching children and parents real truths and how to better prepare to get out alive.” For more information on this excellent teaching tool, call (800) 355-7710 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More scenarios on fire safety will be forthcoming, but I don’t want to stay up nights worrying about you. So in the meantime, why not take my word for it and do these four things: (1) Unplug your coffee pot or your electric kettle after you have finished drinking your 14 cup quota for the day. (2) Never leave your dryer unattended when it is drying clothes. (3) Never put oily rags in your dryer, even if they have been washed first. (4) Never, never, never, never smoke in bed.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit: shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben