Fire Safety at Home
Barrie Fire & Emergency Service has experienced an increase in fires in homes with aluminum wiring and would like residents to be aware of the potential hazards associated with this type of wiring.
What are the problems associated with aluminum wiring?
Aluminum wiring connections have been found to have a very high probability of overheating compared to copper. The wiring expands when heated and, over time, the expanding and contracting can cause the connections to loosen. A loose connection can cause arching between the wires, which can cause a fire in your home. The arching often occurs behind a light fixture or receptacle making it difficult for the homeowner to tell a potential fire is occurring.
These fires often occur when the home handy person decides to perform repairs or change the electrical devices without knowing the dangers associated with aluminum wiring.
What should I do if I have aluminum wiring in my home?
The best solution is to re-wire your whole house with copper wiring. However, this can be very expensive. “Pigtailing” is another method, which involves splicing a short length of solid copper wire to each aluminum end. The copper wire “pigtail” is then connected to the circuit breaker, switch or receptacle. Any work conducted with aluminum wiring involves special devices and connections. Problems arise in home improvement projects when improper devices, such as receptacles, are used that are not compatible with aluminum wiring. Copper specific receptacles actually say “CU (copper) wire only” on the back of the unit and also have a cross through the letters “AL” (aluminum).
Aluminum wiring is safe when the connections are maintained every couple of years. Barrie Fire & Emergency Service recommends having a licensed electrician check all of your connections.
Have any electrical work involving aluminum wiring conducted by a licensed electrician. It could mean the difference between life and death.
Electrical Safety PSA
Candle Fire Safety
- Always stay in the room where candles are being used.
- Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or when going to sleep.
- Ensure candles are not used in any bedrooms.
- Keep lit candles well away from anything that can burn.
- Keep candles, matches and lighters out of the reach of children and pets.
- Use sturdy candleholders that won’t tip or burn. Holders with glass shades or chimneys are safest.
Candle Fire Safety Video
Protect Yourself and Your Family from the “Silent Killer”
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (also called CO) is a poisonous gas that you cannot see, smell or taste. It is often referred to as the 'silent killer'. CO is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels such as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal or wood.
Improperly installed or poorly maintained appliances that run on these fuels can create unsafe levels of CO. Even a small amount of CO is dangerous in enclosed spaces such as your home, cottage or recreational vehicle.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness. In very severe cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and death. The elderly, children, people with heart or respiratory conditions, and pets may be particularly sensitive to CO and may feel the effects sooner.
What can create a CO hazard?
- Fuel-burning appliances, venting systems and chimneys that have not been serviced and maintained regularly by a qualified service technician or heating contractor.
- A chimney blocked by a bird or squirrel's nest, snow and ice or other debris.
- Improper venting of a furnace and cracked furnace heat exchangers.
- Exhaust fumes seeping into your home from a car running in an attached garage.
- Using fuel-burning appliances designed for outdoor use (barbecues, lanterns, chainsaws, lawnmowers, snow blowers) in a closed area (tent, recreational vehicle, cottage workshop, garage).
- Combustion gases spilling into a home if too much air is being consumed by a fireplace or exhausted by kitchen/bathroom fans in a tightly-sealed house.
What can I do to prevent a CO hazard?
The Barrie Fire and Emergency Service recommends annual inspection and maintenance of all fuel-burning appliances, venting systems and chimneys by a qualified service technician. Regularly maintained appliances that are properly ventilated should not produce hazardous levels of carbon monoxide.
If you are adding a new fuel-burning appliance or making changes to your home's ventilation system, please consult a qualified heating contractor to ensure that your home is safe from CO hazards.
What should I do if I suspect CO in my home?
If you or anyone else in your home is experiencing the symptoms of CO poisoning or your CO detector sounds, make sure that everyone leaves the home immediately and gets medical help. Call 911 or your local fire department.
About Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Only Carbon Monoxide detectors bearing the new Canadian Standards Association CAN/CGA 6.19 standard or the Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) 2034 standard are recommended by the Barrie Fire and Emergency Service. At least one CO detector should be installed adjacent to the sleeping area of your home. You may need more than one CO detector if sleeping areas are located on different levels of your home. CO detectors should not be installed beside smoke detectors or near any fuel-burning appliances. Please refer to the manufacturer's instructions for further details regarding proper use and maintenance.
The use of CO detectors that meet these standards can warn you about sudden failures of fuel-burning appliances and are a good second line of defense against CO exposure in your home, cottage and recreational vehicle.
Carbon Monoxide - Safety Video
Dirty chimneys can cause chimney fires, which damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. Chimney fires can burn explosively, noisy and dramatic enough to be detected by neighbours or passers-by. Flames or dense smoke may shoot from the top of the chimney.
Homeowners report being startled by a low rumbling sound that reminds them of a freight train or a low flying airplane. However, those are only the chimney fires you know about. Some are less obvious. Slow-burning chimney fires don't get enough air or have enough fuel to be as dramatic or visible. But, the temperatures they reach are very high and can cause as much damage to the chimney structure and nearby combustible parts of the house as their more spectacular cousins. The good news is, with proper chimney system care, chimney fires are entirely preventable.
Use Your Fireplace Safely
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and maintaining your chimney or appliance. If you do not have instructions, call the manufacturer. For masonry chimneys, call the builder.
Note: For all new installations, a Building Permit is required.
- Inspect and clean your chimney regularly. The Ontario Fire Code requires homeowners to maintain the safety of their chimneys and inspect them at least once a year. Your chimney could have a problem you cannot see. If in doubt, consult a Wood Energy Technical Training (WETT) certified chimney sweep.
- Check stovepipes and connections. Ensure screws are located at every joint. Also look for leaching (dark staining or white powder) at every joint. This could be a sign of chimney trouble - consult a WETT certified chimney sweep.
- Check for creosote. Creosote can form quickly and is a major cause of chimney fires. Check chimney and flue pipes often and clean when necessary. Never let creosote or soot build up.
- Check walls for excessive heat. If the wall is very hot, it could be a sign of improper installation of the chimney or stove pipe. Check with a WETT certified chimney sweep.
- Install a rain cap. A rain cap should be installed on top of all metal and masonry chimneys. If you have a spark screen around the chimney cap, inspect it regularly for blockage.
- Watch for smoke coming into the room. This could indicate a blockage in the chimney or a faulty damper control mechanism. Check it out!
- Protect floors and walls from heat and sparks. Keep combustibles safely away from your appliance. Always use a properly fitting screen for your fireplace.
- Regularly check for signs of problems. Your heating appliance, flue pipes and chimney can deteriorate over time. Look for corrosion or rust stains on the outer shell of a metal chimney and check for bulges or corrosion in its liner.
Keep The Fire You Do Want...From Starting One You Don't!
Chimney fires don't have to happen. Here are some ways to avoid them:
- Only use seasoned wood. Dryness is more important than hard wood versus soft wood considerations.
- Build smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke.
- Never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash or Christmas trees. These items can spark a chimney fire.
- Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures where wood stoves are in use, so you can adjust burning practices as needed.
- Have the chimney inspected and cleaned on a regular basis.
What to do if you have a chimney fire
If you realize a chimney fire is occurring, follow these steps:
- Get everyone, including yourself, out of the house.
- Call the fire department.
If you can do so without risk to yourself, these additional steps may help save your home. Remember, however, that homes are replaceable, but lives are not:
- Put a flare type chimney fire extinguisher into the fireplace or wood stove.
- Close the glass doors on the fireplace.
- Close the air inlets on the wood stove.
- Use a garden hose to spray down the roof (not the chimney) so the fire won't spread to the rest of the structure.
- Monitor the exterior chimney temperature throughout the house for at least two or three hours after the fire is out.
Signs That You've Had a Chimney Fire
If chimney fires can occur without anyone being aware of them and damage from such fires can endanger a home and its occupants, how do you tell if you've experienced a chimney fire?
Here are the signs a professional chimney sweep looks for:
- 'Puffy' creosote, with rainbow coloured streaks that has expanded beyond creosote's normal form
- Warped metal of the damper, metal smoke chamber, connector pipe or factory-built metal chimney
- Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing
- Discoloured and distorted rain cap
- Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground
- Roofing material damaged from hot creosote
- Cracks in exterior masonry
- Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners
If you think a chimney fire has occurred, call a WETT Certified Chimney Sweep for a professional evaluation. If your suspicions are confirmed, a certified sweep will be able to make recommendations about how to bring the system back into compliance with safety standards.
What is Creosote?
Creosote is black or brown residue that sticks to the inner walls of chimneys. It can be crusty and flaky, tar-like, drippy and sticky or shiny and hardened. Often, all forms will occur in one chimney system.
Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities and catches fire inside the chimney flue, the result will be a chimney fire. Although any amount of creosote can burn, there is cause for concern when creosote builds up in sufficient quantities to sustain a long, hot, destructive chimney fire.
Conditions that encourage the build-up of creosote:
Air supply: The air supply on fireplaces may be restricted by closed glass doors or by failure to open the damper wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly (the longer the smoke's 'residence time' in the flue, the more likely it is that creosote will form). A wood stove's air supply can be limited by closing down the stove damper or air inlets too soon and too much, and by improperly using the stovepipe damper to restrict air movement.
Burning unseasoned firewood: Because so much energy is used to drive off the water trapped in the cells of the logs, burning green wood keeps the resulting smoke cooler as it moves through the system, than if dried, seasoned wood is used.
Cool flue temperatures: In the case of wood stoves, fully-packed loads of wood that give large, cool fires and eight to 10 hour burn times, contribute to creosote build-up. Condensation of the unburned by-products of combustion also occurs more rapidly in an exterior chimney than in a chimney that runs through the centre of a house and exposes only the upper reaches of the flue to the elements.
How Chimney Fires Damage Chimneys
Masonry chimneys: When chimney fires occur in masonry chimneys, whether the flues are an older, unlined type or are tile lined to meet current safety codes, the high temperatures they burn at (around 2000 F) can melt mortar, crack tiles, cause liners to collapse and damage the outer masonry material. Most often, tiles crack and mortar is displaced, which provides a pathway for flames to reach the combustible wood frame of the house. One chimney fire may not harm a home. A second can burn it down. Enough heat can also conduct through a perfectly sound chimney to ignite nearby combustibles.
Pre-fabricated, factory-built, metal chimneys: To be installed in most jurisdictions in Canada, factory-built, metal chimneys that are designed to vent wood burning stoves or pre-fabricated metal fireplaces must pass special tests determined by Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada (ULC). Under chimney fire conditions, damage to these systems still may occur, usually in the form of buckled or warped seams and joints on the inner liner. When pre-fabricated, factory-built metal chimneys are damaged by a chimney fire, they should no longer be used and must be replaced.
Tips for Safe Heating Video
Home Safety Checklist
Fire is not inevitable and it is also not an accident. Over 90 per cent of all home fires are preventable. Most fire deaths occur when firefighter response times are 5 minutes or less. This means the public must take responsibility for their own safety within their home. Please take the time to answer the following questions. This checklist will help you to determine the level of fire safety in your home. Please work towards achieving as many YES answers as possible.
Home Safety Checklist Video
Don’t Reach for Danger
People have burned to death because they have reached across the stove while wearing loose clothing. Even more tragic is that these incidents usually happen to senior citizens. If you’re going to cook on the stove, wear a short-sleeve shirt or roll up your sleeves. Don’t cook while wearing your robe since most robes have big baggy sleeves
Put a Lid on It
If a pot catches fire, it is important not to panic. Put an oven mitt on and always have the proper fitting pot lid close by so that you can slide it across the pot. Once the lid is placed on top of the pot, turn the heat off. Don’t Peak. Wait till the pot cools down before removing the lid. People have burned their house down because their first reaction is to rush the pot to the sink or get the pot outside as fast as possible.
Clear the Clutter
Keep the cooking area clear of paper towel, wooden utensils and tea towels to prevent any possibility of fire spread.
Stand By Your Pan
Unattended cooking is the number one cause of home fires. Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking. If you have to leave for even a few seconds, take an item with you like a tea towel to remind you to return to your cooking right away.
Kitchen Fire Safety Video Part 1
Kitchen Fire Safety Video Part 2