Comprehensive Guide to Home Fire Safety

No one ever expects to experience a home fire, but not preparing for the worst will not prevent the worst from happening. According the nonprofit organization Fire Prevention Canada, at least one Canadian dies by fire every day, and dozens more Canadians are injured in fire-related incidents. The majority of fires start not in restaurants or factories but in people’s homes. We’ve put together this guide to help keep your home and family safe from fires.

Fire Prevention

A comprehensive fire safety plan requires prevention measures and an exit strategy in case the unfortunate occurs. Use this guide to take an initial inventory of your home to make sure there are no hazards, and then get into the habit of maintaining a hazard free environment. Leave post-it notes by your front door or bed to remind you to turn off appliances and blow out candles if you need too. Here is a list of things to watch out for and precautions to take.


  • Before leaving the house or going to bed, make sure all candles are extinguished
  • Keep candles away from objects that ignite easily such as curtains, mattresses or gas and electrical appliances
  • Place candles in areas that children or pets cannot accidentally knock them over

Matches and Lighters

  • Keep objects intended to start fires in air-tight storage places that children cannot access

Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

  • Keep these devices clean and have them inspected once a year by a specialist
  • Keep inlets open on wood stoves and glass doors open on fireplaces while fire is burning to prevent creosote buildup
  • Close glass doors when the fireplace is not in use
  • Always use a protective mesh screen made of metal while burning firewood
  • Do not use liquid fuels or cardboard to start fires


  • Use electric skillets that are controlled by a thermostat for deep frying
  • Keep a pan top or cooking sheet near the stove to smother unexpected fires
  • Do not try to move flaming pans or pots away from the burner – you are likely to spread the fire or burn yourself
  • Clean ovens on a monthly basis
  • Always use oven mittens when taking things out of the oven
  • When broiling, make sure the rack is between five and eight centimeters above the heat source and always have a drip pan underneath to catch grease
  • Never microwave tin foil or other metals as they will ignite
  • Be aware that microwaved items such as pastries can feel cool on the exterior but be very hot inside. The outside of baby bottles are designed to deflect heat while keeping milk warm, so check the temperature of milk before serving it to your infant

Space heaters

  • Place heaters at least one meter from anything flammable and do not use heaters to dry shoes or clothing
  • Turn off heaters before going to bed or leaving home


  • It’s safer for everyone for smokers to smoke outside
  • Always keep a deep ashtray nearby and make sure butts are completely extinguished
  • Do not smoke near oxygen producing devices
  • Never smoke in bed or while laying down

Storage, Clutter and Hazardous Materials

  • Take out the garbage and store it in a trashcan with a lid as far away from your home as possible
  • Make sure all exits are always unobstructed
  • Never leave items doused in flammable liquids such as oily rags out in the open – dispose of them in a trashcan outside of your home

Fire Safety Devices

Familiarize yourself with these devices and install them in your home:

Fire and Smoke Alarms

Some provinces require by law that homes have at least one operational fire alarm, though one for each floor is recommended. Test alarms monthly, replace batteries annually and replace units every ten years. It’s helpful to set dates for tests and replacements and mark them on a calendar. Because many fires start in kitchens, fire alarms should always be placed in close proximity. Never turn off fire alarms while cooking.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of burning fuel, has no scent or colour; however, it can cause serious health implications such as headaches, vomiting and muscle twitching. Long term exposure can cause brain damage or even death. Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home to protect yourself. Clean furnaces, fireplaces, gas dryers and chimneys at least once a year. Never turn on gasoline-powered engines, grills or kerosene stoves in enclosed spaces. Keep outside clothes dryer vents free of lint and make sure forced air fans are ventilated.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are designed to put out very small fires. Most people do not know that there are multiple kinds of fire extinguishers for combating specific types of fires. Extinguishers are classified as either type A, B, C or D, and their uses are as follows:

  • Type A – Used for fires started from ordinary combustibles such as wood, upholstery, paper or drapes
  • Type B – Used for fires started from liquids such as gasoline, cooking grease, fuel or paint
  • Type C – Used for electrical fires caused by overheated fuse boxes or faulty wiring
  • Type D – Used for fires started from flammable metals such as magnesium and sodium

Multipurpose extinguishers are sold and should list the classes they cover. If you can afford more than one, keep an A in your living room, a BC for your kitchen and an ABC for the basements and other storage spaces. Keep extinguishers near emergency exits. Keep in mind that extinguishers must be recharged after any use.

Extinguishers have number ratings that indicate the size of fire it can extinguish. More important than an extinguisher’s numerical ranking is the ease which each member of your household can hold and operate it, so make the purchase a group outing and ensure that everyone can comfortably handle it.

Post instructions for operation next to each device. A helpful acronym for remembering how to use an extinguisher is PASS:

  • P – Pull the pin. Some models may have additional or alternative safety locks
  • A – Aim the nozzle at the flame’s base
  • S – Squeeze the handle
  • S – Sweep the nozzle back and forth to put out the fire

Fire Escape Ladders

    Because heat and smoke rise, people who live or sleep above ground level are much more vulnerable to fires. If you live in a complex with safety ladders, make sure access to them is always unrestricted and practice using them to exit your home. If you do not have a safety ladder and have the means to afford one, consult your local fire department about the logistics of installing a ladder on your house. Teach children to run to windows and wave an article of clothing to attract the attention of rescuers if they cannot safely escape

Planning for Fire

Feeling content that you have taken thorough prevention measures is no excuse for not having a plan in case a fire does happen. Here is an excellent worksheet to help create an escape plan. Print out one for each member of your home and develop your plan together. When making your plan, consider these items:

  • Ensure all windows and screens can easily be opened by all members of the household
  • If a window has security bars, make sure a quick release device is installed and practice removing the bars
  • Doors with more than one lock and key are safety hazards. Always keep doors within the house unlocked and have keys close to your body at all times
  • When escaping from a fire, stay low to the ground and limit breathing to avoid smoke filling your lungs
  • If your clothing ignites, stop immediately, drop to the floor and roll back and forth to smother the flame. Practice stopping, dropping and rolling with children
  • For sleepwear, avoid loose fitting garments and those made from highly flammable materials such as cotton

Once you choose your exit routes and establish a meeting place outside, practice once a month. Do test runs of different situations. Know how to escape from every room and make preparations for helping children and those with disabilities. Do it more than once and time yourself with a goal of getting quicker each round. Taking an hour each month to practice fire safety can potentially save you or your family’s lives.

Questions or comments? Please email us at with your comments.