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TIAS

Fire Prevention and Safety

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In any given year, we have several dealers who are affected by fires and who lose inventory or work time as a result. Fires can happen to anyone.  There are a few simple things that you can do that may greatly reduce your chance of loss in a fire:

  1. Make your work spaces fire safe. You can get more inventory -- even one-of-a-kind antiques -- but you can't replace people. So the first issue to consider is always is human safety -- make sure people can exit from your work spaces in case of an emergency. Issues to consider:

    1. make sure you have two exits in every room (if you have not modified your structure, and it was built to code, it almost certainly already has two exits in every room. One may be a window.);

    2. keep both your exits clear (its too, too easy to put boxes in critical traffic paths -- don't do it!) and
    3. make sure people know where the exits are and how to operate them.

    Note: Windows are exits, but breaking the glass out of one that cannot be opened is time consuming and adds a extra hazard to the escape process. If you have privacy grating or burglar bars that cannot be opened, your window is no longer an exit, it is a trap!  Use bars which have a quick release mechanism that anyone who is in the area can operate.
     

  2. It is a VERY good idea to conduct periodic fire drills. In your office and in your home. Even if its just you. Stop, look and ask yourself 'how would I get out if the fire were between me and the door?'

    Make sure everyone (particularly children) is aware that they cannot hide from a fire; and there is no safe place except outside. I was shocked when my 6-year-old once told me his plan in case of fire was 'to blow it out.' In case of fire, everyone needs to know to leave the structure as quickly as possible and THEN phone for help at a neighbor's or on a cell phone.  Define a gathering place outside your structure where you, your family and your employees are to meet.   Make sure it is not in a traffic area where emergency vehicles may come.

    Your kids probably had the stop-drop-roll training in school for dealing with flaming hair or clothes, but do you remember this? And would you do it in an emergency? To yourself? To another person?

    A little rusty? You can get free fire-safety education materials from your local fire department and other civic agencies and refresh yourself about fire safety -- your tax dollars at work! Classes are also often available from the Red Cross, YMCA/YMHA and other groups.

  3. In the event of a fire, even if you think you can put it out, get someone to call 911 as soon as possible.  The fire department will not be unhappy if they arrive at the site of an extinguished blaze and you will need them if you can't put the fire out. 

    One note about emergency calls -- it can be very difficult for people under stress to remember street addresses.  Its surprisingly common for people, when asked 'where is the fire' to respond with an unusable location like 'in the kitchen'.  This is understandable, but not useful to emergency personnel.  Because this is common, many residential telephone systems in the US are indexed so they provide street locations to the 911 dispatcher.  Cell phones don't.  If you are calling on a cell phone, you will need to provide an address to the dispatcher.  So if you have a choice, call 911 from a residential phone.  Drill your children to make sure they know their address and that they MUST  give their address to the 911 operator when asked, no matter what kind of phone it is.  Practice this with them until this is habit.  The 911 dispatchers are very well trained and will help a frightened person provide the information needed, but minutes and seconds can be critical in an emergency.

  4. Make sure you have fire extinguishers. You need more than one, too. Will that extinguisher do you any good if its in the kitchen and you are in the shed? Most fires can be stopped early on with a good extinguisher, but extinguishers are not magic and won't stop a well-established blaze.  Knowing when to give up is an important part of extinguisher use.  Don't be proud ... do you really have any future as a dead hero? Your extinguishers should be:

    1. appropriate to your environment. That means you should not get fluid extinguishers if you have items that can be damaged by fluid.  Different extinguishers are needed for different types of fire.

    2. charged and

    3. in date code.

    Check your extinguishers regularly.  Most are charged for one year only and will need recharged or replaced on an annual basis.

    Note: if you have never used a fire extinguisher before, its a good idea to 'spend' a charge of one by practicing with it -- outside! Sometimes extinguishers behave in surprising ways.  For instance, extinguishers that use rapidly expanding chemicals,  may freeze anything the chemical stream hits. Read the cautions about use on your extinguishers and believe what the manufacturer says!

    Fires feed from the bottom and grow tall as the heat rises; if you have an early-stage fire that you are controlling with an extinguisher, use the extinguisher at the base of the fire, not the top.

    If you can't put the fire out swiftly with an extinguisher, its a job for professionals.  Leave and get help.

  5. Smoke inhalation is the most common cause of death and injury in fires. Early-phase fires can be located in a crawl space or attic and, if so, won't be visible.  Smoke is often your first warning.   And for sleepers, children or the breathing-impaired, smoke can be a silent killer.   If you don't have smoke detectors, get them. They are CHEAP!  If you think you cannot afford them, think again   Note:  these are required in most new construction and in many communities you can even get them free from your fire department or city authorities.

  6. If you do have them, check your smoke detectors and make sure they work. Its as simple as pushing a button; if needed replace the batteries or the detector. And don't put it off thinking you will do it later.  Have you tested your detectors in the past six months?  No?  Go and do it now -- the tutorial will still be here when you get back.  And we'll all feel better!

  7. Install emergency light packs. Why? In most fires, one of the first things that happens is that you lose power as the wires burn. Roughly 50% of the time in almost all of the world, it is night time. This means that there is an awfully good chance that the area where a fire occurs will be dark. Most fires are smoky, not bright (smoke is the largest danger in fact).  You cannot depend on a fire to give you light.   You can get very inexpensive units that plug into a wall socket and that go on when the power goes out. Your local hardware store will have these, they often cost as little as $10 and double as emergency flashlights. Get them, install them and test them regularly. There also are larger industrial units that you can get from companies that sell safety equipment, if you are so inclined.

  8. Check your heating equipment.  It is the most common cause of home fires.  Make sure that space heaters have adequate clearance (36" on all sides) and don't leave them on when you are gone.   If you are using an extension cord on an electrical space heater, make sure its adequate for the load you are placing on it -- if the cord is warm to the the touch, this is NOT a good sign; get one that can handle more current.  If you have a semi-permanent space heater, don't put the cord in a traffic area; if need be, run them overhead.  If a cord gets frayed, take it out of service.

  9. If you are building something new, consider having a sprinkler system built as part of your new construction -- they are comparatively inexpensive to add during construction.  In some cases, a sprinkler system will pay for itself by the reduction in your insurance premiums.  Find this out by asking your insurance agent.

    Note: The purpose of this sort of system is to preserve your structure, not the contents of it. Most of these systems work by having a plug that is melted out when the fire gets high enough. By the time this happens, the contents of your structure will probably be (sorry) toast.

  10. Make sure you know where the nearest fire hydrant is in case you need to give this information to an emergency crew. In general, emergency personnel have maps and are well aware of the location of the hydrants, but it does not hurt for you to know this also. If you have a country place, it is much less likely that the crew will know where your hydrant. pond or well is; this piece of information may be more critical than you can ever believe.

  11. Fire safety is no accident! Get educated! In virtually all communities, you can get free literature and classes on fire safety. Additional in some communities, you can get a free fire safety and sometimes even smoke detectors and extinguishers from your fire department. Particularly if you have small children, an invalid or other person with special needs, this is a good idea. Make sure you have some plan on how to evacuate such a person.

  12. Its better to be a live person with a burned up house than a dead hero. But it can be very inconvenient. Carry adequate insurance. Not only contents and physical damage; you may want to get business interruption insurance that will cover your losses if your lose time as a result of a fire.  Ask your insurance agent about your options.

Hopefully, you will never have to know any of this, but fires are unfortunately more common than you might think. Spending a little time on fire safety is a small investment that can pay large dividends.

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