Arnold AFB Fire and Emergency Services shares tips to stay fire safe while enjoying outdoor activities

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

Another “snowmageddon” like the one that struck Tennessee earlier this year is, at least for the next several months, highly unlikely.

The outside air is getting warmer. The days are getting longer.

With winter now in the rearview and the arrival of spring, many will begin to heed the call of the outdoors over the coming months. Trails will be hiked. Campsites will be set. Lawns will be mowed. Hamburgers and hotdogs will be grilled.

The Arnold Air Force Base Fire and Emergency Services Fire Prevention Office is encouraging folks to get out and enjoy all of their springtime activities while keeping safety foremost in their minds. Those in the office are sharing tips to help ensure various spring pursuits are as fire safe as possible.

“Spring is a great time to think about fire safety and to start focusing on what you can do to reduce fire risks or fire hazards around your home and workplace,” said Arnold FES Fire Inspector Guy Chastain.

Home fire safety can begin with a little spring cleaning. Chastain said one place that should be a particular area of focus for homeowners is the garage.

“The biggest area a lot of people would need to take a look at would probably be their garages,” Chastain said. “It tends to be an area where people store a lot of items.”

These items can include empty boxes, unused building materials, and old magazines and newspapers. Such items, Chastain said, seem to have a way of “stacking up” in the garage, which only serves to increase the home’s fire load. A fire load is essentially the amount of combustible materials present in a given area, and fire will grow and spread more quickly in areas with greater loads.

Garage clutter should be eliminated by discarding unneeded refuse.

“It’s always a good idea to look at everything that you have stored away and say, ‘Is this something that I really need to hold on to?’” Chastain said. “If it’s really of no value to you, you should probably get rid of it because, if a home were to catch on fire, the more stuff you have in it just adds to the fire load. If you can reduce the potential fire load in advance, it’s always good to do it, to minimize the combustibles you have around your home.”

Another item commonly stored in garages is fuel. If storing gasoline, steps should be taken to ensure it is kept in a proper container intended for fuel storage and that the container lid is on tight, Chastain said. He added that the National Fire Protection Association recommends against storing fuel inside the home or garage. Instead, the organization recommends keeping stored fuel inside a shed or outbuilding away from the home, if possible.

The spring season is also an ideal time for folks to clear clothes dryer exhaust ducts, Chastain said. Lint that accumulates in this ducting over time can pose a fire risk.

“A lot of people forget about making sure the exhaust duct is cleaned out, and if it gets clogged up with excessive lint, it could present a fire hazard, so spring is always a good time to get out there and take a look at it to see if it needs cleaning,” Chastain said. “If you can’t remember the last time it’s been cleaned, it probably means it’s a good idea to clean it.”

Duct cleaning kits are sold in many hardware stores for those wishing to clean their dryer ducting themselves. Otherwise, professionals can be hired to clean the exhaust ducts.

Those residing in wooded areas or whose homes are surrounded by trees should clear fallen leaves, dried limbs and branches, and pine needles from around their home. Chastain said debris-free barrier of at least 5 feet around the home is recommended. Homeowners should also act to clear such debris from underneath decks and out of gutters.

“In the event of a wildland fire, embers can be blown a good distance away from the actual fire,” Chastain said. “If it lands on your home and you’ve got dried leaves up in your gutters or out on your deck, it can increase the likelihood of catching your home on fire, so it’s always a good idea in the springtime to get out there and just clean around your house.”

Woodpiles should not be stored abutting the home. Rather, it is recommended that they be kept 25 to 30 feet from the residence. This also applies to construction materials.

Although Chastain said grilling has seemingly become a year-round activity, it truly ramps up during the spring. Because of this, Chastain said now is a good time for folks to get out to clean and perform a safety check on their grill.

Excessive grease or fat buildup should be removed from the grill and the trays below the grill.

Those who use propane grills should perform a leak check before the grill is fired up for the first time each year. This can be done by applying a light soap and water solution to the entire exterior of the propane tank hose. Bubbles will be released if a propane leak is present.

According to the NFPA, if the gas grill has a leak, detected either by smell or the soap test, and there is no flame, both the gas tank and the grill should be turned off. If the leak stops, the grill should be serviced by a professional before it is used again. If it does not, the local fire department should be contacted.

If someone smells gas while cooking, they should immediately get away from the grill and contact the fire department. In this instance, the grill should not be moved.

Chastain added if the tank hose appears dry rotted or damaged, it is strongly recommended that the hose be replaced before the grill is used. The grills themselves should also be examined for any damage and possible obstructions.

If the grill flame goes out, the NFPA recommends turning the grill and gas off and waiting at least 5 minutes before re-igniting it.

The appropriate fuel must be used for charcoal grills. Gasoline, kerosene and other combustible liquids, aside from lighter fluid, should never be added to a charcoal fire. If lighter fluid is used to start a charcoal fire, it should be made specifically for usage in charcoal grills. Do not add lighter charcoal fluid directly to the flame.

Lighter fluid should only be put on charcoal when it is cool. If the fire goes out, do not spray lighter fluid on hot coals.

“It can quickly catch on fire and blow up in your face,” Chastain said.

Coals must be completely cooled before additional lighter fluid is applied and relighting of the charcoal is attempted.

Charcoal grill users should make sure the coals have cooled completely before the grill is put up for the evening. The NFPA recommends disposing of the cooled coals in a metal container.

Chastain said users can explore other methods to start charcoal grills, such as chimney starters and electric starters, if they are less comfortable using lighter fluid.

Regardless of type, a grill should not be left unattended, and a fire extinguisher should be readily available while it is in use. Children and pets should be kept at least 3 feet away from the grill area.

Grills should only be used outdoors and placed at least 25 feet away from homes, other buildings and deck railing, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches. Chastain said grills can be stored next to the home when not in use but only after it has completely cooled.

Some teams or groups at Arnold AFB, headquarters of Arnold Engineering Development Complex, take advantage of the warmer weather by holding cookouts. Chastain said a hot work permit is required for those at Arnold wishing to use grills in the base mission area. These permits can be acquired by contacting the Arnold FES Fire Prevention Office or the base dispatch center.

According to the NFPA, July is the peak month for grill fires, and roughly half of the injuries involving grills are thermal burns.

Campfire safety is paramount of those seeking a more extended stay in the outdoors, Chastain said.

Each year, campfire accidents send thousands of people to emergency rooms with burn injuries, according to the NFPA.

A campfire or fire pit should be located at least 25 feet away from any structure or anything that can burn. Dry leaves and sticks, overhanging low branches, and shrubs should be cleared from the site before the fire is started.

Chastain said it is recommended that campfires be kept small, as they are safer and easier to control than larger campfires. The NFPA further advises against burning on dry, windy days since these conditions make it easier for open burning to spread out of control.

Campfires should not be left unattended, and children and pets should be supervised and not allowed to play near or stand too close to the fire.

Gasoline or other flammable liquids should never be used on a campfire or in a fire pit.

With campfires, keep a hose, bucket of water, or shovel and dirt or sand nearby to put out the fire when finished using it. Campers should make sure the fire is completely out before exiting the campsite.

Before setting up a campfire, it is advised that campers first check with the local fire department to ensure they are permitted in the area.

It is recommended that a fire extinguisher be kept readily accessible when setting up a campfire or using a fire pit. Many fire pits come with screens that can be placed over top of them, and these screens should be used to help keep embers confined.

“You can do a lot this season to protect yourself, your family and your property,” Chastain said. “In fact, you are the most important key to your safety. Spending a little time on fire prevention will go a long way to make your home a safer place for you and your loved ones. The AEDC Fire Department encourages everyone to have a fire prevention plan this spring. These simple steps will help ensure a safe season of activities and a safe home to enjoy them in.”

Arnold FES Fire Prevention Officer Christian Lyle reiterated the importance of the AEDC mission while encouraging team members to keep fire safety in mind this season.

“We must not forget why we are all employed at AEDC, and that is to support the warfighter and our nation,” Lyle said. “That is why it is important to follow fire safety principles not only at work but at home. Our service members and support personnel depend on us to be able to do our jobs, and everyone here at AEDC is vital to the mission.”

For additional information, contact the Arnold FES Fire Prevention Office at 931-454-5569 or 931-454-5306.