The most common type of a fire in your home is a kitchen fire. The leading cause of fires in the home is unattended cooking, so make sure you:
- Stay in the kitchen and watch what you heat
- Things that can burn such as paper towels or tea towels should always be kept away from the stove
- Turn handles inward when cooking to avoid hot spills
- If you have young children or pets, keep them away from the cooking area and for added safety, cook on the back burners first
To extinguish a small grease or oil fire, always keep a lid and oven mitts nearby when you’re cooking to smother the fire; carefully slide a lid over the pan to extinguish the flames and turn off the burner; don’t move the pan and keep the lid on until the pan cools completely.
Never use flour or water as it spreads the flames. If you’ve a fire in the oven or in the microwave, keep the door closed and turn off the heat.
Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from any heating equipment, such as a furnace, wood stove, fire place or space heater.
Have a licensed electrical contractor make repairs or additions to your electrical system. Extension cords aren’t intended to be permanent wiring. Use a good quality power bar with its own circuit breaker. Don’t place cords under carpets or across doorways. Never overload circuits.
All major appliances, like a fridge or dryer, should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. Unplug any heat producing appliances when not in use, for instance space heater, kettle or curling iron.
Always use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on a light fixture. Never leave anything flammable hanging over a lamp shade as that item can heat up quickly and turn into a big fire.
If you smoke, smoke outside. Never smoke in bed or smoke if you’re impaired by alcohol, medication or drugs. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays. Dispose of hot ashes properly; wet them down or put in a large tin can or sand. Never butt out in flower pots, especially those containing peat moss or mulch as they’re highly combustible.
Don’t smoke in a house where portable medical oxygen is used. Keep oxygen cylinders at least five feet from a heat source, open flame or electrical device.
Never throw a cigarette from a balcony. The cigarette can easily land and start a fire.
Lighters and matches
Children have a natural curiosity about fire and are tempted to play with matches or lighters that are left within their reach. Keep matches and lighters away from children. Store them in high-up places, preferably in a locked cabinet. Teach children that matches and lighters are tools, not toys, and must only be used by adults.
If you’ve a child who plays with lighters and matches, or has set fires, please contact the Arson Prevention Program for Children (TAPP-C).
Never leave candles unattended while they’re burning. Extinguish all candles when you leave any room, when you leave your home or when you go to sleep. Use sturdy non-combustible candle holders and never leave candles where young children or pets could knock them over. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles instead, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.
Install fire extinguishers where they’re visible and accessible, preferably near an exit and not within ten feet of a potential source of a fire. Don’t store them in closets or under sinks. Only attempt to extinguish a fire if it’s small, it’s not spreading and it doesn’t pose a threat to you.
Make sure that everyone has evacuated and that someone has called 911. Never put the fire between yourself and your way out. Know when and how to operate your extinguisher.
The Ontario Fire Code requires a working smoke alarm on every level of a home and outside all sleeping areas. This includes single family, semi-detached, and townhomes, whether owner-occupied or rented.
Where to install smoke alarms:
- On the ceiling near the centre of the room, hall or stairway
- If you have a ceiling with a steep slope, on the high side of the room. If you have an ‘A’ frame ceiling, avoiding placing the smoke alarm at the peak.
- At least three metres from a cooking appliance to avoid false alarms
- Away from bathrooms, heating appliances, windows, or ceiling fans
- On every level of the home, including the basement
- Outside all sleeping areas, and for extra protection in every bedroom
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing smoke alarms.
How to maintain smoke alarms:
- Test smoke alarms once a month by pushing the test button
- Gently vacuum dust out of smoke alarms twice a year
- Change batteries once a year and when you hear the low-battery warning beep
- Replace the smoke alarm every 10 years
Accessible smoke alarms
People who are deaf or hard of hearing can use alert devices that connect to a smoke alarm, including:
- Strobe lights that flash
- A bed shaker that wakes you up
- Devices that use a mix of loud, low-pitched sound
Visit the Canadian Hearing Association’s website for more information.
Who is responsible for smoke alarms
Homeowners must install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of their home and outside sleeping areas. Landlords must ensure their rental properties comply with the Ontario Fire Code.
Tenants can’t remove the batteries or tamper with smoke alarms. If you’re a tenant and don’t have the required number of smoke alarms, contact your landlord immediately.
Carbon monoxide alarms
A carbon monoxide (CO) alarm works like a smoke alarm. It beeps loudly when sensors detect CO, a poisonous gas that you can’t see, touch, or smell.
If your home has a fuel-burning appliance, a fireplace, or an attached garage, you must have a working CO alarm in the hallway or area around each sleeping area.
For extra protection, install CO alarms on every level of your home. Homeowners and landlords are responsible for installing and maintaining CO alarms.
Common sources of CO
The main sources of CO in your home are fuel-burning appliances such as:
- Water heater
- Blocked vents or chimney
- Portable fuel-fired generator
You should have a trained, certified technician check your furnace, gas, stove, fireplace or fuel-burning appliances once a year.
Symptoms of CO poisoning
- Burning eyes
- Loss of consciousness
If you have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately move everyone in your home outside and then call 911.
Monitored home alarm systems
If you’re installing a burglary system that’ll be monitored, it’s recommended to get a smoke and fire sensor added to the system. If a fire occurs while you’re away from your home, the alarm will be raised.
Home fire safety sprinklers are affordable and easily installed in new homes. When home fire sprinklers are used with working smoke alarms, your chances of surviving a fire are greatly increased.
Fire escape plan for houses
The best way to assure that you and those in your home do the correct things in an emergency is to have an escape plan and practice it with the entire family:
- Make a fire escape plan with at least two ways of escaping every room, if possible
- Make sure that all of your exits are always kept clear and easy to use
- Determine who will be responsible for helping young children, older adults or anyone else that may need assistance
- Choose a meeting place outside, a safe distance from the home where everyone should meet
- If you must escape through smoke, stay low under the smoke as heat and toxic gases rise, then crawl out to the nearest safe exit
- Remember that when you’re escaping, touch the door with your hand first (not the door knob) to see if it’s hot. If it is, do not open it and find another way out.
- Close doors behind you as you leave to stop the smoke and fire from spreading, but don’t lock them
- Once you’re out of a fire, stay out. Never go back into a burning building for anything.
- Don’t try to save possessions, just go directly to your meeting place outside and call 911
Fire escape plan for condos
If there is a fire in your unit, you should follow these steps to safety:
- Tell everyone to leave immediately
- Close doors behind you. Don’t lock.
- Pull the fire alarm on your floor and yell ‘fire, fire, fire!’
- Leave the building using the nearest safe exit or exit stairway
- Call the fire department on 911 when you’re safe
- Meet firefighters at the front entrance and tell them where the fire is
The smoke alarm in your unit isn’t connected to the building fire alarm system; it only notifies you if there’s a fire in your unit.
Most of the time the best thing to do in a fire is leave the building as soon as possible. In some cases, however, you may not be able to leave and you may have to stay in your unit. In either case, you must act quickly.
No matter what your decision, you must protect yourself from smoke. If you encounter smoke or fire conditions call 911 immediately.
If you decide to leave the building
Check the door to your unit. If smoke is entering from around the door, don’t open it. Protect yourself from smoke inside your unit. Use duct tape to seal cracks around the door and place wet towels at the bottom. Seal vents or air ducts the same way.
If there is no smoke, feel the door for heat and if there’s none, brace yourself and open the door a little. If you see smoke or feel heat, close the door quickly to protect yourself.
If the corridor is clear, take your keys, lock your door and go to the nearest safe stairway. Don’t use the elevators and never go on the roof.
Open the nearest stairway door carefully. If there is no smoke, use the stairway to leave the building. If there is smoke, don’t enter. Close the door. Go to another stairway and open the door carefully. If there is no smoke here, use the stairway to leave the building. If there is smoke, don’t enter.
If there are other stairways, try them. If there aren’t other stairways, return to your apartment and protect yourself from smoke.
When you’re inside the stairway, if you find smoke on your way down the stairs, leave that stairway as soon as you can. In some buildings, some doors leading from the stairways may be locked but at least every five floors the doors will not lock so you can leave the stairway.
Use another stairway if it’s clear of smoke. If you can’t use another stairway, return to your unit if you can or go into a smoke-free corridor and bang loudly on a unit door until you find a place to take shelter and call 911.
If you remain in your unit
You must protect yourself from smoke. Stay in your unit until you’re rescued or until you’re told to leave. This may take a long time.
Call 911 and advise them where you’re and what the conditions are like in your unit. Tell them that you’ll call back if conditions change.
Keep smoke from entering your unit. Use duct tape to seal cracks around the door and place wet towels at the bottom. Seal vents or air ducts the same way.
If smoke enters your unit, phone the fire department on 911 and tell them where you are, then move toward the balcony if safe. Close doors behind you and be sure to bring a phone with you so you can update 911 if conditions change.
If you don’t have a balcony, go to the most smoke-free room, close the door and seal it with duct tape and towels. Open the window for fresh air.
Show your rescuers where you are by hanging a sheet from the window or balcony. Keep low to the floor where the air is cleaner. If your building is equipped with a voice communication system, listen for instructions that may be given.
Condo residents with disabilities or mobility challenges
If you have a disability or mobility challenge that would prevent you from evacuating the building on your own, contact the building management team as soon as possible. Ensure that they record your needs in the building’s Fire Safety Plan under ‘Persons Requiring Assistance.’