Mike Bryson

Firefighter Mike Bryson demonstrares the PASS method for using a fire extinguisher. Pull - the pin, Aim, Squeeze - the trigger, Aim, and Sweep. 

Fire safety week runs from Oct. 6 to Oct. 12, but people can take steps year-round to protect their homes and families.

There have been 87 fatalities from fires in North Carolina this year, according to the State Fire Marshal’s office. 

Jackson County has not had any fatalities related to fire this year, said Fire Marshal Michael Forbis.

So far this year, county firefighters responded to 64 calls for structure fires and 45 property fires. A call does not necessarily mean a confirmed fire, Forbis said.

The first and best way to protect yourself is a smoke alarm.

Even after three decades as a firefighter, Tim Green, chief of the Cullowhee Fire Department finds that there still are homes that do not have smoke alarms.

“(We) see a few, not as many as we used to,” Green said.

The American Red Cross recommends having alarms on every level of the home and in bedrooms and hallways. Green suggests having them in living rooms and basements as well.

There are three types of smoke alarms: ionization, photoelectric and dual sensor. 

Ionization alarms are better at detecting open flames. A sensor detects air flow between two electrically charged plates. An interrupted flow triggers the alarm.

Photo-electric detectors work best in fires generating heavy smoke or that might not have erupted into flame. These detectors aim a light into a sensor. Smoke entering the sensor chamber reflects light onto the sensor, triggering the alarm.

Dual-sensor alarms contain both types of sensors. The National Fire Protection Association recommends using this type of alarm.

Having an alarm is not enough; there are guidelines homeowners should follow once alarms are in place.

• Detectors need to be tested regularly to ensure the alarm and batteries still work. Once a month is recommended. Batteries should be replaced twice yearly. Most professionals advise spring and fall at daylight savings time changes.

• Smoke alarms are designed to be used for a certain length of time. They should be replaced every 10 years or as recommended by the manufacturer.

The Jackson County Fire Marshal’s office has a program that provides low income families with an alarm.

The second way people can help protect themselves and their families is to have an escape plan and review it regularly, Green said.

“We preach to the kids at school to practice, practice, practice an escape plan with their parents,” Green said. “I can’t express enough how important it is because it makes our job so much easier to have firefighters to battle the blaze rather than having to search for someone lost in their home.”

Get out of the home first and call for help later.

Plan the quickest route out of the building and possible alternative courses. Try to locate two routes out of every room. Be sure windows are not blocked or painted shut. If windows have safety grates, make sure they open easily. Multistory homes should have well-maintained collapsible ladders.

All family members should practice the escape route with their eyes closed.

Teach children not to hide from firefighters.

Never return to a burning structure; no item is worth a life.

There are a few steps people can take to keep small fires from getting out of hand. Stovetop fires can be smothered by covering a burning pot with a lid or throwing baking soda – not baking powder – onto flames to smother them.

Green recommends having at least one fire extinguisher in the home and knowing how to use it.

“Most all departments have real good response time, but every second counts when a fire starts,” he said. “Having an extinguisher or two in your home could save thousands in repairs.”

Ideally there should be several fire extinguishers in the home placed throughout the house in easily accessible areas of bedrooms, hallways, basements, workshops and especially the kitchen or near wood heat sources.

Extinguishers in the kitchen should be placed within reach but not above or behind fire-prone areas.

To use an extinguisher, remember the PASS method: Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep. Pull the safety pin, aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, squeeze the handle and sweep back and forth.

The most crucial step is to remember to stay calm and pull the pin.

Fire extinguishers come in a range of styles. The three main classes are A, B and C, with each class used for certain types of fires. Class A extinguishers are intended to suppress regular flammable items like paper, wood and plastic. Class B works most effectively on flammable liquids like gasoline, kerosene and solvents. Class C is recommended for electrical fires.

ABC extinguishers are designed to handle all three types of fire. They use dry chemicals that subdue fire by cutting off the oxygen that feeds flames and interrupting the chemical reactions.

Having one of these on hand may prevent a fire from getting out of hand.

Like smoke detectors, fire extinguishers need to be properly maintained. Check seals regularly. Dry chemical extinguishers need to be turned over and shaken every so often it to keep the powder loose. If an extinguisher has a pressure gauge, check the pressure to make sure it is at the right level. The needle should be in the green zone. Check the bottle for signs of rust, corrosion, leaks or a clogged or damaged nozzle. If there is damage, replace it.

Some fire departments can check extinguishers and advise homeowners of any possible issues with the unit.

Green offers two last pieces of advice residents can use to protect their homes and assist firefighters in an emergency.

“Check and clean heating systems regularly and keep leaves away from the house during fall and winter,” he said. “Please mark driveways and houses with addresses, and keep driveways trimmed out for easy access.”

In the event of a fire follow these steps:

• Get down low. Stay as low as possible and crawl out because smoke and toxic gases rise and collect at the ceiling.

• Check doors before opening them. Feel the knob and door with the back of the hand. If either one is hot, or if smoke coming in around the door, do not open it. Use the alternate escape route.

• Open doors slowly and be prepared to close them quickly if there is heavy smoke or fire.

• If family members or pets are trapped do not try to rescue them. Tell the 911 operator where they are.

• Anyone who is trapped should close all doors to the room, cover vents and cracks under doors to keep smoke out. Say put and wait for help and try to find a way to alert firefighters to their location.

• If clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll. Stop, drop to the ground, cover the face with your hands and roll over or back and forth until the fire is extinguished. If the person cannot do that, smother the flames with a blanket or towel.