It’s every parent’s nightmare: fire strikes your home. Of course, immediate response focuses on savings lives. Homes can be rebuilt; water, fire and smoke damage can be cleaned-up and restored. Lost lives cannot. However, once the flames are extinguished and it is safe to re-enter the home, families find must face the trauma of facing life after such a disaster.
Protecting children and pets after a home fire is critical. Please keep the following safety tips in mind as your family begins the restoration and rebuilding process.
Open Windows and Circulate Air
Opening the windows in your home after a fire (if weather permits) is a good first step towards airing out the structure and contents. If possible, use fans to help circulate the air. Do not use the home HVAC system (see below).
Empty Refrigerators and Freezers (if electricity is off)
Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep temperatures cold. An average refrigerator keeps perishables adequately cold for around four hours (if left unopened). Full freezers hold temperatures at or below freezing for up to two days (if left unopened).
If power is out to the home after the fire, empty all refrigerators and freezers. If you can store perishables in a neighbor’s house, make arrangements to do so. Items that must be kept below certain temperatures, like milk, spoil quickly. Meat, fish, poultry and eggs must be kept at or below 40F. Inside the closed-air environment of a sealed and hot refrigerator or freezer, many food items will deteriorate quickly, making them unsafe to consume.
Do Not Prepare or Consume Food (Including Canned Goods) Subjected to Heat
Throw away any food that was near the fire, including canned goods. Food exposed to fire (or that you think was close to the heat) may be damaged not only by the fire itself, but also by smoke residues and chemicals that were used to extinguish the fire. Canned or preserved (in jars) food may look safe from the outside, but inside may now harbor growing bacteria that were activated by the heat. Cracked cans and jars also leave the food inside unsafe.
Do Not Turn On Heating/Air Conditioning Systems
The home heating/air conditioning system will absorb smoke and soot residues from fire. Before turning on these systems after a fire, it is critical to allow fire and smoke restoration experts to thoroughly inspect HVAC systems and ducts. If smoke residue is found within, the HVAC system and accompanying ducts must be professionally cleaned and restored before use. To use it beforehand could lead to system damage and the further spread of smoke residues throughout the home or business.
It’s important to keep the pet members of our families in mind at this time, as well. Pets, due to their smaller size and higher respiratory rates, are especially vulnerable. Smoke inhalation (even after the fire is extinguished) can have serious adverse health effects on pets, especially birds.
As quickly as is safely possible, move pets to another location while fire and smoke damage cleanup and restoration by a certified contractor is performed.
Ash and soot residues can irritate and block lungs, hindering respiration. Gases from the fire (e.g., carbon monoxide and formaldehyde) can kill. Birds (including exotic pet birds like parrots, cockatoos and toucans) are especially vulnerable to smoke inhalation and can suffer and die after exposure to very small quantities of gas and residues (this is the reason canaries were used in mines to help alert miners to the presence of lethal underground gas).
Restoration and rebuilding after a fire is a trying process. By following these steps after a fire and smoke loss, homeowners and parents help by protecting children and pets after a home fire. This can help reduce at least one potential cause of stress in an already stressful time.