How to Prevent House Fires

An overwhelming number of fires seem to occur in homes in the US every year with approximately 3500 losing their lives and another 18300 getting injured. In addition to killing thousands, house fires destroy valued possessions and memories. In the US the estimated property damage per year by fire is about $1.5 billion.

Preventing house fires and surviving them need not be construed as a matter of luck – it is indeed a matter of planning ahead.

Understand that children under five are curious about fire. They love to play with matches and lighters. They have to be taught that fire is not a toy but a dangerous tool. They should not be allowed access to matches or cigarette lighters. Keep them locked up out of reach of children.

In the US, about a thousand senior citizens die in fires every year. It is sad that many of these deaths could have been prevented. As the elderly citizens are unable to respond quickly to fire, when they are caught alone, they are vulnerable and succumb to fire.

Fire can start from – a smoldering cigarette, sparks from a ill-fitting appliance plug, burning oil in the kitchen, an overheated furnishing material carelessly draped near a heater or an unattended burning candle. It doesn’t always need an Arsonist. It doesn’t need to burst into flames from the start. It can smolder for hours and emit obnoxious smoke that can asphyxiate the occupants of the house. Carbon monoxide resulting from smoldering material can be a silent killer. This is the reason why we must invest in electronics alarms.

Smoke alarms can be a simple light sensitive kind which uses a photo sensor to detect scattered smoke particles and this type is generally effective in detecting smoldering fire while the other type of Smoke detector – Ionization type which uses a tiny radioactive isotope driven ionization chamber to detect flames.

Prevent House Fires

  • Every home must have at least one working smoke alarm. This is the least expensive protection that one can offer the family. And the smoke alarm must be installed at every floor of the house. For extra protection, smoke alarm can be installed in the child’s bedroom and in the bedroom of those who sleep with doors closed. Call a professional to install the smoke/fire alarm. They know the optimum location to install the alarms. Heated air always rises. Ideally your alarms should be placed where they can intercept any smoke from anywhere in the room.

  • Kitchen and utility areas require smoke detectors on their own.

  • One pertinent cause of home fires is an overloaded circuit or extension cords. Notice flickering lights, or intermittent power surges. These conditions might indicate a bad connection or short in the circuit.

  • Check for breakers or fuses that trip or blow frequently. This is almost always a sign of an overloaded circuit or other wiring problems.

  • In outdoor panel boxes, one has to look at individual breaker connections, for corrosion signs, thermal damage or splices which are poorly taped or damaged wires. The ground cable has to be checked. Failure in the building grounding system can be dangerous and lead to electrocution.

  • It is vital not to place cords and wires under rugs, over nails or high traffic areas. Appliances that sputter have to be unplugged. Whenever there is spark or smoke emitted or an unusual smell, then it is better to shut the circuit off and call a professional repairer.

  • Huge buildings and apartments have to be installed with a lightning protection system, especially if the area is prone to lightning.

  • A person well experienced in electrical wiring, plumbing gas, heating, and air-conditioning must be recruited to inspect the house and suggest options to prevent house fires.

  • It is imperative to keep the alarm regularly tested and dust free. Batteries need to be replaced at least once a year. The life span of a smoke alarm is about ten years.

  • It is not enough to buy an appliance without knowing how to use it wisely. It is necessary to follow the manufacturer’s safety measures and precautions prescribed. For instance, over- heating, unusual smell and sparks are all warning signals. These indicate that the appliance has to be shut off or replaced or repaired.

  • Unplug appliances when not in use. Safety caps have to be used to cover unused outlets. Take extra care, especially when children are at home.

  • Home fire sprinklers can be used with working smoke alarms so that the chance of surviving a fire is greater. Sprinklers are affordable and they increase property value. Insurance rates are also lower with sprinklers around.

Additional precautions to prevent home fires

  • Maintain the fireplace correctly and inspect the fire box for cracks, damaged sheet metal and other hazards. To prevent embers from popping out of the fireplace, glass fire doors or a wire mesh spark screen can be used.

  • Clean chimneys annually. The creosote built up in a chimney can ignite a fire that can spread easily. Use kerosene heaters only when approved by authorities. It is recommended not to use gasoline or camp stove fuel. It is imperative to refuel only after cooling the heater.

  • While in the kitchen and using a cooking range, do not leave the burners on and leave the room. Indeed most kitchen fires happen by unattended cooking.

  • During cooking, when flames appear, especially while cooking oil, it is essential to keep a lid close at hand. The flames can be suffocated with the lid and immediately the stove must be turned off to let it cool down. Do not use water as the super heated water can cause severe burns.

  • Nothing can be more foolish and dangerous than cooking when drinking alcohol or using drugs or when very tired.

  • Natural gas and LP gas system at home have to be checked. Look for loose fittings, leaking valves and faulty pilot lights and debris or improperly stored flammable materials in areas near the appliances.

  • While smoking, never lie down. As standing up will prevent from falling asleep while smoking and in case of getting too tired, put off the cigarette thoroughly in an ash tray and then go to bed. There is a saying – ‘ Don’t smoke from your bed – for the ashes falling down may be your own.’

  • And again, while cleaning the ash tray, the ashes must be placed in a sink and be dampened, and then scooped up and cleaned. They have to be placed in a trash can away from the house.

  • The condition of the electrical system need be checked. While many modern appliances use a three pronged receptacle, some use an adapter to bypass this safety feature. They even break a ground prong off an appliance cord. Changing existing circuits to provide grounding is the job of a professional electrician.

  • Sometimes, chances are that the attic and crawl spaces can have wiring that is damaged by pests and insects. Keep a tab of such spaces.

  • Vents in stacks or gas water heaters, furnaces and clothes dryers, have to be checked. Automated ignition systems, pilot lights and fixtures should be properly installed. Check for any lint or dust built up in these areas. In case a leak is suspected, have a professional inspect the gas plumbing system.
  • Similarly, the heating ventilation systems in air condition units have to be examined. Since these systems operate on electric motors and air moving equipment, they require periodic maintenance. Interior AC coils have to be cleaned and air filters replaced regularly. This will prevent the fan motor from being overworked and money on energy bill can also be saved.

  • Listen when gadgets are operating. Squealing sounds, rumbling noises and banging or tapping sounds can indicate presence of loose parts or bearings that could be seizing up.

  • While handling heaters, keep flammable materials like curtains, couch at a safe distance of at least 3 feet from portable heaters. Set heaters where they are not in the traffic flow of the room. Extension cords are not recommended with space heaters. It is better to be safe and not use extension cords. Space heaters need to be placed on solid firm surfaces. They should not be placed on tables, chairs or other places where they can tip over.

  • Always remember to keep gasoline, paint thinners, and other flammable liquids out of the house in approved containers. Do not store flammable material in the garage or utility room that may have a pilot light equipped appliance in use in it. Be safe. Keep such items outdoors in a separate building.

  • Be careful while using candles, oil lamps and other open flame illuminations / decorations. Extinguish the fire when leaving out of the room. Relight the candle, when you are back in the room.

  • Even with holiday decorations, such as a Christmas tree, use abundant caution. Natural Christmas trees can be highly combustible when they become dry and old and damaged and low quality tree lights cause fires combined with an under watered or otherwise dry tree. This can even destroy a room and a home in a jiffy.

  • Frequenting lawn chopping near a building can build up the heat and catch on fire. Barn fires are famous and bales of hay with no electricity can fire a house.

  • While not at home or on travel, use crates to prevent new dogs or puppies from chewing on electrical cords, confine new cats to a safe room with no place to crawl to hid into a refrigerator motor or electrical cords.

  • Many equipments use Li-ion Batteries as they are more efficient and possess better power to weight ratio. But unless they are charged by their manufacturer approved chargers, they can start a fire. Mobile phones, tablets and Laptop computers have Li-ion or Li-pol batteries which can cause explosion or fire when they are shorted or used in high temperatures. Do not operate a Laptop placing it in a bed. The air vents may be blocked by the bed resulting in raised temperature. Use a flat cradle or a Laptop stand for long hours in the bed.

Invest in suitable Fire extinguishers approved by your local fire department. Extinguishers are classified based on the kind of fire classes. Portable extinguishers can put out small fires if initiated early. Do not underestimate the size of the fire and try to put out fires on your own.

Above all, if at all a house fire occurs; practice a home escape plan with children and family. It is better to practice an escape plan from every room of the house. Choose a meeting place outside the house and make sure everyone knows to meet there.


Winter Fire Safety Tips from the U.S. Fire Administration »

  • Reinforce the ‘stop, drop, cover and roll drill’ in case children’s clothes catch fire. Let everyone stay low to the floor while escaping from fire. It should be ‘get down low, and go, go, go’ principle.

  • Never open doors that are hot. It would be wise to select a location when everyone at home can meet after escaping the house fire. Better to get out and then raise a call for possible help.

From kitchen stove to a romantic candle-lit dinner, any common household item can turn dangerous very quickly. Learn to prevent fire and practice safety by simply following the prevention tips suggested. It is not worth risking your life and that of your loved one.

Securing Windows

MS Windows has come a long way in terms of security. When it comes to Personal computers’ Operating System (OS), Windows (Windows XP, Vistas and Windows 7 put together) accounts for nearly 90 % according to the statistics published in W3Schools. The statistics for March,2011 show that Windows 7 has 34.1 %, Vista has 7.9 % while Windows XP has 42.9% of share. For the curious, Linux has just about 5.1% share whereas Mac has 8% at the same period.

Microsoft has worked hard on its latest avatar of Windows to make it not only more user friendly but also a lot more secure than other versions of windows. It offers an effective anti virus software – MS Security Essentials and a Malicious Sofware Removal tool too.

Windows 7 also offers a better firewall with complex inbound/outbound configurable ruleset. In other words, MS offers – better security straight out of the box than before. With that said, it still pays to be prudent and follow the suggested steps to enhance the security of your Windows computer. Windows 7 Firewall

Steps to Secure Windows Computers:

Basic :

1. Enable internal Firewall.
2. Set up ‘hard’ passwords for all accounts. In older Windows set up password for all accounts. Disable guest account while you are there.
3. Keep your patches and hot fixes current. This is not just for the OS alone – but also to your browsers and Email clients.
4. Disable Remote Desktop until you need it. When you are done, disable it promptly.
5. Create backup in an external device.
6. Disable hidden file name extensions. This step will also help you avoid duplicate extensions. When you are browsing in File explorer, you should see what extension a file has.
7.Never run or execute a program from email.
8. You may want to use OpenDNS – a ‘public’ DNS server which will allow you to configure the kind of sites allowed for name resolution in your network.  It offers webcontent filtering,Phishtank anti-phishing and whitelist/black list creation of lists.

Securing Windows

Advanced:
There are some tools to diagnose and monitor your computer. We list below some of them:
1. WinPatrol – from BillP studios – (www.winpatrol.com/) This tool lets you take a brief snapshot of your critical system resources and alerts you to any changes. For the kind of monitoring it does, it has a surprisingly low memory foot print.
2. Collection of security utilities from Sysinternals (technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals):
We show below only a couple of the most used system tools here. You will find more command line utility tools listed there.
a. Process Explorer: It is a powerful tool which lets you see the various process running in your computer – PID,CPU usage,memory used, description of the process and the company name of the process involved. You can replace the normal task manager with this more advanced version if you so wish.
b. TCPView: Lets you see the network connection – Process, PID, Protocol,Local Address, Local port,Remote Address,Remote port, state and sent/received bytes.
3. If you have any sensitive data you would not want any prying eyes to see, enable file encryption. In Windows 7 ultimate edition, you can use Bitlocker to encrypt a file or a directory. If you have an older Windows, go with the OpenSource TrueCrypt (www.truecrypt.org) – an encryption software that does on-the-fly encryption of the files in memory.

Vinegar Uses

Vinegar has a long history – from the time of Babylonians 5000 BC. Vinegar – derived from the French word – vin aigre – for Sour Wine is a dilute solution of acetic acid. It occurs from a natural fermentation process of alcohol.

Chemical Formula of Vinegar: The major ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid (ethanoic acid) whose chemical formula is CH3COOH

The humble ubiquitous vinegar has hundreds of uses in and around your home. Before we check out all the Vinegar uses, we will say here that not all vinegars are made the same way. Though they all contain acetic acid, the strength of the acid varies from 4 % to 18 % depending upon their origin. The most common Vinegar from grocery stores is Apple Cider Vinegar made from Apples or cider. Apple cider vinegar has a brownish yellow color and it is widely used in health and for general culinary uses.

Vinegar Health Benefits:

There are many vociferous advocates for the various Health benefits of Vinegar. Vinegar is shown to reduce the glycemic index of carbohydrate, reduce cholesterol level, blood sugar levels, triacylglycerol and helps in weight reduction amongst others.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine prescribed Vinegar for reliving the symptoms of sinus. A drink called as Posca, Vinegar mixed with water and a little of honey was used by the Roman soldiers to ward off infections. At the time of Black Plague, a concoction made of garlic soaked in Vinegar called as Four Thieves Vinegar, was used to protect – 4 thieves from Plague.

1. Apple Cidar Vinegar in Weight Reduction: 1 Tablespoon of Apple Cidar Vinegar mixed with a glass of warm apple juice taken at the time of every meal helps to shed excess body weight.

2. Cholesterol Reduction: One tablespoon mixed with water or any fruit juice once a day on a regular basis has shown to reduce cholesterol levels significantly.

3. Reduction of Blood Pressure: 1 tablespoon of Vinegar and one tablespoon of honey in a glass of water helps to reduce the blood pressure.

4. Diabetic management: 2 tablespoon of Vinegar taken with food helps to reduce the blood glucose levels.

5. Improves Digestion: Vinegar, taken in small quantities (about one tablespoon) along with water aids the digestive process especially during a heavy meal.

6. Control of Flatulence: Some foods like beans and cabbage increase flatulence for some individuals. Vinegar helps to promote better digestion thwarting flatulence in the process.

7. Tenderizing Meat: Vinegar has traditionally been used to tenderize meat. Add one or two tablespoonful of vinegar to marinate tough meat.

8. Control of Urinary Tract infections: Regular intake of Vinegar helps to maintain the right pH balance in the urinary tract which tends to curb UTI.

9. Managing infections: Vinegar’s potent bactericidal ability could be used to fight mild infections.

10. Jelly fish stings: Dousing the stung region in Vinegar helps to prevent the spread of the venom called as nematocyte. Vinegar can be useful for some other insect bites as well.

11. Increase the bioavailability of iron from some vegetables like Spinach: Vinegar added to spinach enhances the absorption of iron.

Vinegar as Beauty Aid:

1. Use Vinegar to control Acne: Cotton ball dipped in a dilute solution of Vinegar helps to reduce the inflammation and the infection.

2. Reduce frizz and add shine to hair: Applying dilute solution of Vinegar on the hair and rinsing afterwards unshackle the frizz and adds shine.

3. Control Oil in oily skin: Equal parts of vinegar mixed with water can be applied on the surface of the skin (avoid sensitive areas) and then rinse with copious water. Acidic Vinegar opens the pores and removes the dirt and oil from the skin.

4. Tighten the skin: Dilute Vinegar helps to peal away the dead surface layer of the skin.

5. Control Body odor: Applying a little of vinegar in your underarms can retard odor causing bacteria.

6. Foot care: Immerse you feet in a shallow tub of warm water mixed with a cup of vinegar for 30 minutes.

7. Controlling Dandruff: Apply vinegar on the scalp. Wash your hair after about 30 minutes.

Vinegar Uses

Vinegar as Green Cleaning Agent:

Vinegar deodorizes refrigerators, ovens and microwave ovens. Keep a small saucer filled with Vinegar inside the refrigerator for a few hours to remove the odor. Clean the inside of ovens and refrigerators and freezers with a solution of Vinegar to kill the bacteria.

Dilute solution of Vinegar can remove stubborn stains and dirt from the ceramic tiles, grouting and glass surfaces – almost any surfaces. Use a weak vinegar solution to clean and remove the dark stain from marble surfaces. Wash with water immediately after cleaning the surfaces.

Vinegar removes glues, stickers and stains from automobile glass and mirrors. Vinegar also tends to ward off insects and germs.

It kills weeds, slugs, insects and flies in the garden and from your pets. It is not harsh on the environment as well.

Vinegar combined with baking soda can be used to declog a drain. Leave the fizzing concoction for an hour before pouring down water.

Clean your DVD/CD with a soft non lint cloth dipped in vinegar. Dry the DVD/CD before playing. Your drive electronics don’t take kindly to water or vinegar.

I have outlined only a few of the possible uses of Vinegar in this blog. If you are going to try the vinegar for any of its health benefits, consult your physician or health care professional. A few hours of research – however meticulous it may be – is no substitute for professional guidance.

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