Indoor Maintenance

Keeping your home and family safe from fire

Happily we readjust our time zone to fit the changing seasons, which means we all pick up the hour we lost in the early spring.

Frentz and Sons Hardware uses the day of the time change to remind residents about their smoke detectors, fire alarms and fire extinguishers. It’s an easy way to remember to check all these things, because they are important.

Mike Frentz, personally, will no longer need the time change as a reminder. Not after the fire he had in his kitchen.

It was about 10 or 10:30 p.m. Friday night. His wife had put a little oil in a pan, and put the pan on the stove, to make popcorn. The next thing Mike knew, his eldest son, Kevin, 14, was yelling “Fire!”

Everyone in the house heard Kevin, but no one believed him the first time yelled. Mike, who was upstairs, shrugged and thought Kevin saw a barbecue flare up in the yard next door, where neighbors were enjoying the good weather and having a backyard party.

Then Mike smelled smoke.

The short version is that the pan had caught fire and flames were about 5 feet above the surface of the stove when Mike ran into the kitchen. He instinctively grabbed the pan, burned himself but held on, and remembers thinking, “now what?”

Kevin knew. He’d ran down the basement stairs, grabbed the fire extinguisher that he’s seen there all his life, and ran upstairs with it. Then it was his turn to stop and wonder, “now what?”

Fortunately, Mike knew. He dropped the pan, grabbed the extinguisher, pulled the pin and hosed the fire down. Upshot: No one hurt. Fire damage to the stove (even the knobs were on fire) and possibly to the microwave on the shelf above it. Lots of clean up – no one ever said fire extinguishers were tidy things to use. But his family is safe, the damage is minor, and his house is fine.

However, Mike’s still a little stunned. “The house filled up with smoke so fast I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It was only a couple minutes, and it was all over the house. In five minutes, we wouldn’t have been able to see in front of our faces.” The possibilities of what could have happened are not lost on him.

So he bought a couple new fire extinguishers for his house and replaced the batteries in his smoke detectors.

If you haven’t already done so, now’s a good time to do it.

There’s a model for people who hate it when smoke alarms go off because of shower steam or burned toast, so they pull the battery – and forget to replace it. This model has a “hush” button that instantly kills the alarm without removing the battery, thus leaving the system properly armed.

If you hate changing batteries, Frentz and Sons also has a smoke detector with a lithium battery good for 10 years. Or, if you just don’t do well remembering to change batteries, even once a decade, there’s a 110-volt model designed to be wired directly into your household’s electrical system. Mike says that one is a little more difficult to install, but it’s the same kind in use in hotels and public buildings.

Those detectors can cost between $40 and $50. Then again, batteries over a few years can add up, too.

A comparatively new smoke detector available at Frentz and Sons works on a photoelectric cell system, which can detect smoldering fires, like a hot electrical outlet or a cigarette butt between sofa cushions. Most other smoke detectors use a tiny fragment of a radioactive isotope that can detect actual smoke, but cannot detect a slow-building, smoldering fire.

When you’re buying a fire extinguisher, remember your ABC’s. That’s how fire extinguishers are rated. An extinguisher with:

An “A” rating puts out wood and paper fires.

A “B” rating puts out fires caused by liquids such as grease, gas and oil.

A “C” rating puts out electrical fires.

Mike recommends a 10-pound (pound reference refers to power of the extinguisher) Kidde (actually pronounced Kid-ahh, but that’s another story) extinguisher, small, light and easy to use – you pull the pin, aim at the base of the fire and squeeze the handles together.

Frentz and Sons also has a 5 pound model, rated for B and C fires, that’s good for the kitchen. They also carry a larger, 40 pound model with an ABC rating for.

Be prepared for a little cleanup job afterwards. Old extinguishers used carbon dioxide to extinguish a fire. The new ones use a white powder that chokes off the oxygen at the source of the fire, thus extinguishing it.

Each extinguisher also has a gauge that measures whether it has a good charge. Most of these home extinguishers will last a long time and Mike says the gauges are very accurate, so you’ll know if and when you need to replace them.

And if you have a two story home, consider a collapsible steel escape ladder. They come rolled up in a small box, but unroll to lengths of 15 or 25 feet. You just hook an end over the window sill and climb down.