Erika Leader-Young can tell you from first-hand experience how a fire can disrupt your life—or take your life away.
Leader-Young is a firefighter/paramedic with the New Lenox Fire Protection District. She has served as the district’s public education coordinator for two years in a full-time capacity and nearly twice that long counting part-time work.
And she knows how quickly fires spread and how they can turn deadly, too.
More than 3,500 Americans die each year in fires and 18,300 are injured, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. And Leader-Young said an overwhelming number of fires occur in the home.
“Fire doubles in size every 17 seconds, ” she said. “People can go on YouTube and see how quickly it spreads. We did a side-by-side burn, and it’s on YouTube. We do it every year at our open house, and people are amazed and shocked at how quickly fire spreads.
“We have one without a sprinkler system—a home residential sprinkler system—and one with a sprinkler system. You can see the difference. In two minutes, everything in this room is engulfed in flames. It’s black smoke. You can’t even see the room anymore. And, in two minutes, someone is just now probably calling the fire department because the room is on fire, especially if no one is home.
“By then, everything is destroyed. People don’t understand. They ask, ‘Why didn’t you put it out?’ Well, you don’t understand how quickly fire spreads. Then, they see the room with the sprinkler system. It’s a trashcan fire underneath curtains. The whole room is set up like a living room.
“In 10 seconds, the smoke alarm goes off. Two seconds after that the sprinkler system goes off. The only thing that is damaged is a little water damage and the curtains. That’s it.”
The moral to Leader-Young’s story? Follow a few simple safety tips and take precautions and you’ll be able to cuddle up next to the fireplace with a good book during the winter months. For peace of mind, consider Leader-Young’s safety tips:
Fire Safety Tips
Keep them in candleholders.
“A lot of people put them in bathrooms next to their potpourri,” Leader-Young said. “Well, a candle is hotter than most people think. If it drips or tips over, the flame will start the potpourri on fire. That’s just kindling right there.”
2. Kitchen fires.
Never leave the room when you’re cooking.
“A lot of people do that—they go back in the living room while they’re cooking,” Leader-Young said. “They’re not paying attention to what’s cooking on the stove. It can spill out over the pot or cook down enough to where it starts a fire. If that happens, if it’s a small fire contained in the pan, they can put a lid over it to remove the oxygen from the fire and put it out.
"Or, you can use baking soda. We don’t use water in a grease fire. It doubles the fire and spreads it—splashes it around.”
3. Smoke alarms.
Leader-Young suggests you keep one in every bedroom, one in the hallway closest to the bedrooms and at least one on every floor in your home. She also suggests changing the batteries every six months—at the same time you change the time on your clocks.
“Ten years is the lifespan of a smoke alarm,” Leader-Young said. “Over 10 years of age is too old. So, if someone still has the same smoke alarm in their house from when they moved in back in 1972, it is way too old. It’s compromised.”
When cleaning out ashes or hot embers, be sure to dispose of waste material in metal containers. Take the waste outside and douse it with water. Keep the metal containers a safe distance away from your home.
Leader-Young suggests hiring a professional to clean and inspect your chimney once a year.
“Every time you start a fire, not only does that soot keep collecting and building up in your chimney, it’s making it narrower for all that smoke to go out, and it can catch on fire and cause a chimney fire,” she said. “I remember my first year here we had a chimney fire on Christmas Day. Luckily, there wasn’t much damage.”
5. Space heaters.
Be sure to turn them off when you leave your home and turn them off at night, too.
“Most people leave them on at night when they’re sleeping to keep the house warm,” Leader-Young said. “But you’re asking for trouble if you do that.”
6. Carbon monoxide detectors.
Test your detectors every month. Change the batteries regularly.
“Any time one of these detector goes off, residents should call 9-1-1 and call us,” Leader-Young said of homeowners unsure about what to do next. “A lot of people are leery about doing that because they think it’s just the battery or they unplug it and go to bed. Then, they don’t wake up the next morning.
"Carbon monoxide is dangerous. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. It’s odorless.”
7. Fire extinguishers.
Leader-Young recommends keeping one in your kitchen (under the sink) and one in your garage.
“We get a lot of cars that start on fire—or if you have a handyman working in the garage, you never know,” she said. “If you have an extinguisher, you can put out a fire. If you have an attached garage to your home and your car starts on fire, it’s going to spread.
"We had one a couple of years ago on Francis Road, and that whole house is gone. And it was a few days before Christmas. They lost everything.”
COMING SATURDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Saturday and watch as public education coordinator Erika Leader-Young talks fire prevention in a Patch video. Also, she shares some alarming fire facts.