Over the past several decades there has been a reduction in the number of death and injuries caused by residential fires. This is in large part due to increased public awareness surrounding the importance of installation of smoke alarms and fire safety education. However, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fire-related deaths remain a largely preventable public health problem.

The winter season poses a greater risk due to cooking holiday meals, displaying decorations and people using potentially unsafe sources of heat to warm their homes. Sixty-seven percent of winter fires occur in one- and two-family homes and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is the most common time for winter home fires.

The number one cause of home fires is cooking, usually because people start to cook something then forget about it.

  • Always stay in the kitchen while cooking.
  • If you must leave the kitchen for any amount of time, turn off the range first.
  • Keep anything burnable such as dishtowels or napkins at least 3 feet from the range top.

Smoke alarms should be installed on every floor of the home and it is recommended they be installed inside each bedroom or sleeping area.

  • Smoke alarms should be tested once a month and standard batteries changed once a year or sooner if the alarm chirps. This means the battery is low and you need a new one.
  • Do not take out batteries to stop the alarm sound.
  • They should be replaced with new units every 8-10 years.
  • Remember that an alarm may not wake sleeping children and your family’s fire exit plan should account for them needing assistance to wake up and exit the residence.

Everyone in your home should take part in planning your escape plan:

  • Make a plan with family members to get out fast if there is a fire.
  • Draw a map of your home.
  • Know two ways out of every room and mark them on the map.
  • Have a safe place to meet outside, in front and away from your home.
  • Practice a family fire drill twice a year.

Remember, if a burn does occur, cool it with cool water for 3-5 minutes right away. Do not put ice, butter or lotion on the burn. Contact your doctor or call 911 if the burn looks bad.

The University of Vermont Medical Center Trauma and Burn Center can be reached at 802-847-3790. We offer excellence in trauma surgery, burn-related surgery and surgical critical care. As Vermont’s only Level I Trauma Center-and the first in the U.S. to be verified for both children and adults-you can be assured that you and your family have access to the most advanced trauma surgery and surgical critical care available in the event of a serious injury or accident.

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