Where do you feel safest from the threat of a fire? At home? You’re not alone. A 2008 nationwide survey by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers showed that 79% of Americans feel safer from fire at home than in public. In reality, the overwhelming majority of fire deaths occur in the home.
Modern commercial and public buildings have many fire protection features that are not present in most homes. Some of these, like fire sprinkler systems and illuminated exit signs, are obvious to the casual observer. Others, such as fire-rated stairway enclosures, are less noticeable. The owners and occupants of commercial and public buildings are responsible for properly maintaining fire protection and detection systems, building service systems (such as electrical and heating and cooling equipment), and emergency exit facilities and equipment. Inspections by fire department personnel, code enforcement officials, and insurance company representatives help to ensure that these systems are all maintained in good order.
The next time you stay in a hotel or motel, take a few minutes to identify some fire safety features. Initially, you are likely to notice sprinklers, fire extinguishers, exit signs, manual fire alarm boxes, and smoke detectors. Now look closer. You’ll notice hallway emergency lighting (which activates when power is lost), panic bars on exit doors, a self-closing fire door for your room, fire safety instructions at the elevator, and any number of other features that are meant to protect the building and its occupants from fire.
Once you are back home, consider whether your own fire safety provisions are adequate. Are smoke detectors installed and operational? Has your family developed and practiced a fire evacuation plan? Can you find an operational fire extinguisher without delay? Has the furnace been inspected and serviced as needed? Positive answers to these questions can help turn the perception of fire safety at home into a reality.