By Kevin Clang
2012 is proving to be a bad year for home fires in Boston. In particular, two fires in mid-January, on Beacon Street in Brookline and near Harvard Avenue in Allston, affected local college students. While the problem is in no way unique to this area -- there were over 390,000 home fires across the country in 2010, causing 2,640 civilian deaths and a total of $6.9 billion in direct damage -- a house or apartment fire can be particularly devastating to a college student or 20-something, who may not be prepared for such an incident.
Whether your current apartment is your first or you’ve lived on your own for years, these safety tips will help you from getting displaced (or worse) by a home fire.
Keep an eye on what you’re cooking. Cooking equipment was somehow involved in 42 percent of fires started between 2005 and 2009, making it the top cause of home fires and home fire injuries in that time period; in most cases, these fires were started by simmering dishes left unattended. Cut down on risk by keeping your oven area clean and free of unnecessary clutter. Never barbeque or grill on a porch or patio, either; keep those activities on ground level and at least five feet away from the building.
If you’re going to smoke, go outside. When you light up inside, you might be wrecking more than your lungs. In 2010, smoking -- mostly still-burning butts left unattended -- was the leading cause of home fire deaths. While only 4 percent of home fires started in the living room (a prime smoking spot), those fires accounted for 25 percent of home fire deaths.
Be sure to check the place out before you move in. You can do a lot to prevent fire-related devastation even before you’ve signed a lease. While you’re apartment hunting, be diligent in your inspections. Is the building up to code? Does it have plenty of smoke alarms? Where is the nearest fire hydrant? Do individual apartments have numbers on the doors? What is your fire escape plan? Asking your potential landlord all of these questions prior to moving in can help you avoid a worst-case scenario. It also helps to have a good sense of who your neighbors are, particularly any elderly ones.
After you move in, fire-proof your apartment. Taking the proper steps when you move in might help you prevent a fire or extinguish it before it becomes a problem. If you're purchasing appliances, select models with “auto-off” features to prevent electrical fires; make sure your power strips will shut down if there’s a dangerous spike in electricity. Have a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen just in case a small fire breaks out. Regularly check your smoke detectors, and change their batteries twice a year.
If something does happen, be smart about what you can actually do. Between 2005 and 2009, 58 percent of people who tried to fight a fire themselves reported non-fatal injuries. In the case of a larger fire, your first step should always be to evacuate the building and call 9-1-1.
Get renter’s insurance. Here's one bill you shouldn't hesitate to pick up. When you purchase your insurance, make sure you get a good sense of what is and is not covered, and take a complete inventory of all your belongings (you could even take pictures) in case you need to file a claim. Remember that even if you’re the safest person in the city and follow all the rules, you can’t pick your neighbors; none of the precautions you take will matter if you live next to Johnny Storm. And if a neighbor starts a blaze and you aren’t insured, you could be footing the bill for all of your lost property yourself -- a hefty amount of money in comparison to a renter’s insurance premium.
Photos by Courtney Sacco
About Kevin -- I've spent the past three years honing my journalistic skills, telling people's stories across various forms of media, helping launch an online television network, learning all aspects of social and new media, editing a Student Emmy Award-winning sports show, planning and running concerts for nationally recognized artists, and recruiting volunteers for a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. I'm focused on bringing traditional media into the future. Twitter: @kevclang
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