Like most aspects of the Community Emergency Response Team program, fire safety begins at the home and workplace. Being able to identify potential electrical fire hazards that are in your home or place of work is the first step to fire safety. By knowing what constitutes a fire hazard, you’ll be able to remove that fire risk and make your home or business safer and a fire free zone.
According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), each year there are over 50,000 electrical fires producing an estimated 1,500 injuries, 500 deaths, and 1.3 billion dollars in property damage. As such, it is considered the third leading cause of home structure fires.
The FEMA Community Emergency Response Team program teaches an individual important principles and guidelines related to fire prevention. The online lesson overview takes roughly 30 minutes to complete. After completing the CERT lesson, “Fire Hazards in the Home and Workplace”, you’ll be able to do the following:
1- Identify potential fire hazards in your home and work place
2- Identify steps you can take to mitigate any fire hazards identified in your home and workplace.
Potential fires in the home and workplace fall into three main categories. They are:
1- Electrical Hazards
2- Natural Gas Hazards
3- Flammable Liquids
In this article, we will focus on the Electrical Hazards, learn how to identify them, how to mitigate electrical hazards, and what to do should an electrical fire occur.
Electrical Hazards in the Home and workplace
Many of the potential electrical fire hazards are due to carelessness and therefore with proper attention to guidelines, can easily be avoided. How many times have you been in a hurry in the morning, running late for work, school or other obligations, and rushed out the door only to return home and discover you left the oven on, curling iron plugged in, or the pot on a turned-on stove.
In today’s world, we are surrounded by some amazing electrical technology that makes our lives easier and better. However, it is up to us to use them safely to prevent fires and the potential to destroy our homes, workplace, and possibly even life.
Leaving an appliance on or plugged in while you are away is not the only potential electrical fire hazard, consider the following other potential electrical fire sources.
- Overloaded electrical outlets
- Using incorrect light bulbs for lamps or other light fixtures
- “Daisy-chain” power strips by plugging one into another
- Use of adapters to plug three-prong cords into two-prong outlets
- Use of extension cords as permanent wiring
- Using multiple appliances at the same time
- Place electrical cords under carpets or across high-traffic areas
- Use of broken or frayed electrical cords
As you look around your home, try to identify any potential electrical fire hazard? If identified, spend the time to learn how to mitigate that threat.
Mitigating Electrical Hazards in the Home or Workplace
Mitigating is defined as “having the effect of making something bad less severe, serious, or painful”. There are several ways we can do this with regards to electrical fires. They are:
- Keep your appliances in good working condition. Repair or replace faulty appliances and replace broken or frayed cords
- Don’t run electrical cords under carpets
- Don’t overload outlets
- Use extension cords only for temporary purposes
- Always ensure the correct light bulb wattage is being used for each respective light fixture
- Before leaving your home or workplace, ensure all unnecessary appliances are unplugged or turned off
- Know where the circuit box is to shut off power to your home or office should a fire arise, or a risk be identified
- Ensure the circuit breaker box is properly labeled
So, what can you do if you don’t have enough outlets to run all the appliances in your home? You have two options. 1- Use the few outlets you do have safely, meaning limiting the number of appliances being used at the same time or 2- Have a professional electrician inspect your home and recommend improvements to your electrical system. This may cost a bit of money, but it will ensure your home is safely wired to accommodate your needs.
Electrical Fire in the Home or Workplace
Should an electrical fire occur, do the following:
1- locate the circuit breaker box and flip the switch of the correct area of the home that has the fire. If you need to cut off power to the whole house, do so by following the proper procedure to shutting off power.
a- Flip all the individual switches to off
b- Flip the main/master switch off
To turn the power back on, do the following:
a- Flip the main/master switch off
b- Flip all the individual switches to off
2- Get a fire extinguisher that is approved for electrical fires. Electrical fires are Class C fires. To learn more about which fire extinguisher you need, read our other articles titled, “Types of Fire Extinguishers and Their Use” and “How to Operate a Fire Extinguisher”.
NOTE: Never use water for an electrical fire as water conducts electricity!
3- Call 911. An electrical fire may spread beyond the outlet junction box with the potential to burn behind the wall where you are unable to detect if it has truly been extinguished or not. A professional firefighter will be able to inspect the walls and determine what caused the fire and how to prevent it in the future.
If you are worried that your home is not up to date current or desirable electrical standards and codes, you should call a qualified electrician to have them inspect your home electrical system – outlets, wiring and breaker box. This qualified professional will be able to tell you how you can improve your homes wiring and electrical system.
If you don’t already have smoke alarms, you should get them installed right away. According to ESFI, “sixty-five percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no working smoke detectors.”
Electrical fires can be very serious and prevention is always the best approach to safety.
If you would like to review the FEMA’s online course, you can click HERE.