Dealing with emergencies in your home

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Nov. 20, 2013
- Contributed Photo

What would you do if you had a water emergency in your home? What if your house had an electrical incident, or was the only one on the block with an electricity outage? If the furnace or boiler began acting strange, making noise or smoking, would you know what to do first? Now what would happen if another family member were home, and you were not available?

The first step to protecting your home and your family should be to document, in easy-to-read text, where the key locations for these systems are, when to use them and how. Include photos showing where they are. Post this information in a place where everyone can see it and find it easily, should they have to use it. Review the posting with family members, and explain the actions they may need to take. Make them feel comfortable and confident, so they can react promptly and effectively.

There will probably be very few times when it becomes necessary to close a water main as an emergency response. A well-designed plumbing system should have a number of valves that cut the flow of water to places where water could be leaking or gushing profusely. (You might want to verify this for your own peace of mind.) There is water in your kitchen for the sink, dishwasher and perhaps your refrigerator. Each bathroom has separate pipes for the sink(s), toilet and tub/shower. Most homes also have a laundry area on a separate plumbing line. And somewhere between each of these outlets and the water main, there should be a shutoff valve.

But in an emergency, would you want someone to be looking for the valve that stops water from flowing to that one area of the house? It might be easier to know where the main shutoff is instead.

Every time you work on the electrical system, you should shut off the circuit that powers the outlet on which you are working. If there were an accident involving electricity, an electrical fire, or water leaking very near electricity, acting quickly could save a life. Hopefully, you have already clearly marked which breakers control each area of the house, but what if you are not home and your spouse, child or other relative has to respond? Just knowing where the circuit breaker box is located becomes critical.

Even less obvious than the circuit box is the location of the emergency shutoff switch for the furnace or boiler. If your furnace is in the basement, it is likely that this switch is located on one side or the other of the doorway. That is where the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety code specifies it should be. This would also be a very good location for the posting of all this emergency information.

In my home, there is a fire extinguisher mounted just inside the door to the basement, and therefore, right beside the shutoff switch for the furnace. This is not only a convenient place for it, it is appropriate, since that is also where the emergency information list is posted. If you have other fire extinguishers in your home, include them on your safety list, along with photos of their locations. Your local fire department can educate you about the number and placement of fire extinguishers in your home.

Be sure to explain to other family members that a portable fire extinguisher should only be used when the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing. Everyone should exit the building, and the local fire department should be called. If the room is already filled with smoke, using a home fire extinguisher is not the appropriate action to take.

Most major emergencies can be dealt with if everyone knows where to go and what to do.

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