KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
October 4, 2018
Natalie Cook Clark and Katrina Katsarelis
Although most home fires start from cooking or kitchen appliances, there are many, other dangers lurking in Katy Area homes. In honor of Fire Prevention Week, we spoke with local fire station representatives to help Katyites be on alert for their home's potential fire risk factors. Here are some things you may not realize when it comes to home fires in Katy.
Newer Katy homes Burn faster than Old Ones
According to the Today Show, 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to escape a house fire, but today it's down to four minutes. Why? Because the materials used have changed dramatically. "New homes are built with lightweight construction and although they can be put up fast at a lower cost they often use prefab trusses and glued lumber where in the past there would have been a beam,'" explains Simon VanDyk, Harris County Emergency Services District 48 Fire/EMS "As builders look to save money and decrease build times the use of gusset plates (metal rectangles with teeth) to secure two boards together at a peak instead of an actual nail. These plates can melt when under a fire load which can mean weight bearing structural members are not secured to each other and may collapse far sooner than with older construction practices."
Your Garage and Breezeway Could be Dangerous
Many Katy homes do not have proper firebreaks between detached garages and the houses. "Whether a garage is finished or not doesn’t really determine whether a breezeway has been made safe with a proper fire break," says Van Dyk. "We have seen finished garages involved in fires where the sheetrock around the breezeway is still unfinished so as to allow for easy access to the lines entering the home. He also says that even if the sheetrock does close off this “horizontal chimney” from the garage to the house, it is not a true fire break and will eventually fail as the wood structure behind the sheet rock catches fire and that now travels up the wall and seeking the path of least resistance follows the breezeway into the home." VanDyk says their home safety survey looks at breezeways and will help the homeowner determine whether or not they are protected. "Breezeways can be easily checked with a flashlight and step ladder by shinning a light through the passage way. If the light makes it all the way to the house then the fire will have no trouble doing the same thing."
"We do have a higher number of garage fires than would be statistically expected and, due to the breezeway issue above, they often cause more damage than in other parts of the country where the detached garage is truly detached. Garage fires are the result of multiple causes but the most common we have seen is improper disposal of smoldering and/or flammable material."
Your Home May Have Electrical Issues you Don't Realize
According to electrician Hector Laredo, the most likely cause of electrical fires is faulty wiring or improperly installed outlets and switches. He says sometimes homeowners will get warnings like flickering lights, burning smells, or strange noises, but sometimes there are no warning signs. Laredo recommends homeowners check outlets annually and replace the breakers every 10 years. The Willowfork Fire Department suggests homeowners not overload outlets and to call a professional if they see or smell anything odd when using an outlet. "Other warning signs that an outlet might be on its last legs would be discoloration of the outlets itself or excessive heat from the outlet when it is in use," explains VanDyk. A non-working outlet could also be a warning sign. When in doubt, always call an electrician to check it out.
Your Breaker Box May Need Replacing
This week, a Katy resident in the Cimarron area called to report their their breaker box caught on fire out of nowhere. Fortunately, the family got out safely. "There are a number of neighborhoods in and around that part of town that have a brand of breaker box that is notorious for failure and causing fires," says VanDyk.
Your Smoke Alarms May Not Be Working Efficiently
Many residents assume that because their smoke alarm is hard wired it works. Not true, says Van Dyk. "Smoke alarms have a working life span of 10 years. He says after 10 years of normal use their ability to detect smoke degrades considerably and although a device might actually 'sound' after 10 years, it may not do so as quickly as it should to give a family the earliest warning possible," explains VanDyk.
Never assume any smoke alarm is working, especially if it's older than the recommended 10 years. "Hardwired smoke alarms are the preferred way to protect a home since they all talk to each other and will all sound even a fire starts in an unoccupied room on the far side of the home.
Your Dishwasher May be a Fire Starter
"The most common appliance fire that I have seen in Katy is surprisingly dishwashers," says Van Dyk. Many don't realize the extreme heat that a dishwasher puts out during the drying cycle and often start a load of dishes as they are heading out the door. Some residents have come home to find a fire in progress. VanDyk says they do their best to document and report these but because so many are self-extinguished, they often go unreported so the dishwashers don't get recalled. "As much as we don’t like true false alarms, we would rather residents call us for an already extinguished fire so that we can record it and check to make sure the fire did not spread into the wall or create additional hazards that might not be readily apparent to them. VanDyk says that most fires start in the kitchen from cooking or appliance fires.
Dryers, Chimneys, and Furnaces Need Checking
Another area to be aware of is your dryer. According to Jason Tharp of Harris County ESC 48, dryer vent exhaust hose (from dryer to outside) should be cleaned annually or biannually based on usage. Outdoor dryer vent flaps should move freely. Chimneys and furnaces should be cleaned each year before the first cold snap. There should be nothing within 3 feet of water heaters or furnaces. Cooking vents over stovetops should be cleaned regularly. Gas lines and all vents should be checked regularly.
Kids and Teens Often Sleep Through Smoke Alarms
Even with a current and properly inspected smoke alarm families need to have a well thought out plan in the event of a fire. "Most people don't know that children between 8-15 years of age sleep differently than adults and studies have shown they don't wake up to smoke alarms," says Simon VanDyk, LT. Public Information Officer Harris County Emergency Services District 48 fire/EMS. "We are constantly educating people about having a plan if you have children or older family members who may have mobility issues."
Action Steps for Katy Families
The Willowfork Fire Department is making numerous public appearances in support of this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Look. Listen. Learn." The fire department has also been making rounds to Katy ISD schools educating students on how to make a family plan and be safe during the event of a house fire.
Jason Tharp of Harris County ESD 48 says families need to set up home family plan and practice exit drills. This is a also a good time to check smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, and talk to your family about fire safety. Visit www.firepreventionweek.org.
Attend an Open House
Harris County ESD 48
Harris County ESD 48 will hold Open Houses on October 28th at three stations.
Station 3 located at 1773 Westgreen Blvd.
Station 4 at 22855 Franz Rd.
Station 5 at 21201 Morton Rd.
Memorial Hermann Life Flight will be at Station 5, an annual blood drive, are more exciting events!
Willowfork Fire Department
The Willowfork Fire Department will be hosting a free Fire Prevention Open House on October 13, 2018 at Fire Station #1 located at 24655 Westhiemer Parkway, Station #2 at 26950 Cinco Ranch Blvd, and Station 3 at 2700 Spring Green Blvd Katy, TX 77494.