Fire Safety for Your Home

Danny Lipford in full gear at fire safety demonstration for the CBS Early Show.

Over 400,000 residential home fires occurred in the United States in 2008—one every 78 seconds. They resulted in 2,755 deaths, over 13,000 injuries, and $8.5 billion in property damage. In addition hundreds more die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

While cooking is the main cause of house fires, heating equipment surpasses it during the winter months.

There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the chance of becoming one of these grim statistics, including:

    • Residential sprinkler system
    • Smoke detectors
    • Carbon monoxide detectors
    • Fire extinguishers
    • Escape ladder for multistory homes
  • Annual fireplace and furnace inspections

Sprinkler Systems

Though often overlooked when building or remodeling a home, a residential fire sprinkler system is the best way to protect your home from fire. While smoke alarms can warn you of a fire when you are home, it’s up to you to heed the alarm and take the appropriate action. A sprinkler system, on the other hand, acts to put out the fire in the crucial minutes when a fire first starts, whether you are home at the time or not.

Since sprinklers are activated by heat, not smoke, only the units that are located closest to the fire come on when a fire occurs. In 90% of the homes equipped with a sprinkler system that experienced a fire, only one sprinkler was needed to control the blaze, limiting water damage to the home.

The cost of installing a sprinkler system in a new home averages $1.61 per square foot, or a little over $3,000 for a 2,000 square foot home. In addition, having a sprinkler system installed in your home can result in a 5% to 30% reduction in your homeowner insurance fire protection.

More information on sprinkler systems can be found on the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition website.

Smoke Detectors

In addition, every home should be equipped with smoke detectors to alert you in case of a fire.

The three main types of smoke alarms are:

    • Optical: Better for detecting smoldering fires.
    • Ionization: Better for detecting flaming fires.
  • Combination: Contains both detectors to provide protection from smoldering and flaming fires.

How to Install Smoke Detectors:

    • Install at least one smoke detector on each level of your home, with one located in or near each bedroom.
    • Locate alarms on or near the ceiling and away from the corners of the room.
    • Change batteries every 6 to 12 months.
    • Clean detectors annually by gently vacuuming or blowing with canned air.
  • Replace smoke detectors every 10 years.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless poisonous gas that is generated by fire or combustion.

Sources of carbon monoxide include:

    • Natural gas and propane appliances such as stoves, space heaters, and water heaters.
    • Gas, fuel oil, wood, or coal burning furnaces and heaters.
    • Gas and wood burning fireplaces.
    • Fires in your home.
  • Gasoline and diesel powered engines used on cars, boats, and generators.

Fire Extinguishers

A multipurpose (ABC) fire extinguisher should be easily accessible at all times in your home, especially in the kitchen.

ABC fire extinguishers can be used on:

  • Combustible materials including wood, cloth, and paper.
  • Flammable liquids like oil and gasoline.
  • Electrical fires from wiring and electrical equipment.

When using a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS, which stands for:

  • Pull the pin on the extinguisher.
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle to discharge the chemical agent.
  • Sweep the extinguisher from side to side across the fire.

Escape Ladders

Two-story homes should have an easily accessible escape ladder on the upper story. To use an escape ladder:

    1. Take out the ladder.
    1. Open the window.
    1. Lock the ladder in place.
    1. Secure the ladder over the edge of the window sill.
    1. Pull the tab to release the ladder.
  1. Climb carefully down the ladder to safety.

Annual Inspection

Finally, it’s important to have your fireplace and furnace inspected annually by a trained professional before cold weather arrives.

    • Fireplace: Check for blockage, damage to the bricks and mortar, and creosote build-up. If excessive creosote is found, the chimney should be cleaned.
  • Furnace: Check to be sure the burner and combustion chamber are in good condition and the unit is vented properly.

Further Information


  1. I have been in the fire protection industry for 20 years.
    In those 20 years, sprinkler systems have never received the exposure that they have in the last couple of years.
    The media will normally cover fires after someone has been hurt or killed. Very rarely do you hear that a sprinkler system put out the fire with minimal damage and no loss of life. This was very refreshing and I’m sure that I can speak for everyone in the industry by saying…THANK YOU…well done!!!! ***Fire sprinklers save lives***

  2. Tracey I agree with you 100%. I was impressed with the positive face that CBS put on this story. If sprinklers did not work they would not be used in commercial and industrial occupancies. In almost 25 years of firefighting I never once responded to a fully involved structure that was sprinkled. And I never had to pull a victim from a sprinkled building either. Unfortunately I can not say that about residential dwellings. Let’s get this law passed now!

  3. Fire extinguishers are truly a first line of defense, however a fire extinguisher in the kitchen would be best served to be a “BC” rated extinguisher as opposed to an “ABC” rated extinguisher due to the potential cooking grease fire. I would have liked to also state the very limited time to escape can be less than 3 minutes. Very nice article. Thank you for your support of the Fire & Life Safety Industry.

  4. Fire sprinklers not only save the lives of occupants of buildings, they indirectly save firefighter lives. It is a lot safer to send a couple of firefighter’s into a building to shut off the sprinkler system that activated than it is to send them into a fully involved structure fire.
    To your point Tracey, the problem with our industry is when sprinklers work, it is a non-news event.
    Nice Job CBS.

  5. Great article and great coverage this morning! I had the privilege to witness this live as it was happening here in the Chicago area. I am excited about what this is doing for our industry!
    Thanks CBS, Danny Lipford, LaGrange Park FD, HFSC, and everyone else who contributed!

  6. The area that I live in is very dry and prone to fires in the summer, so I’m planning on upgrading my fire safety equipment now before the next heat wave hits. A sprinkler system is definitely worth looking into, for sure, and the fact that only one sprinkler did the job in 90% of the homes that were equipped with them really attests to their effectiveness as a fire deterrent. Of course, we have smoke detectors already, and a fire extinguisher, but I’m planning on getting the extinguisher replaced to make sure that it still works despite many years without use.


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