How we see the challenge.
We call them ignition sources. You call them cigarettes, matches, lighters, candles, space heaters, the gas flame on your stovetop and anything having to do with electricity. Used as intended, no problem. But, tens of thousands of times each year, misuse or malfunction causes big problems. Ignition sources differ in the amount of energy they generate and the ways in which that energy becomes fuel. For example, a lit cigarette transfers high levels of heat very slowly to the fabric on a couch. Some fabrics won't ignite from the cigarette, while others do so fairly easily. A paper match held to the same couch will not generate as much heat but acts more rapidly. Again, some fabrics will ignite, others may resist ignition.
What is the National Association of State Fire Marshals doing about ignition sources? We rely on two strategies.
The first is a matter of public education, for example: Reminding parents to keep matches, lighters and other potentially hot things away from their children. Teaching kids to stay away from hot things, or how to use those hot things safely. Teaching older adults not to wear loose nightwear while cooking to avoid ignition of clothing by burners. Teaching people not to leave burning candles unattended or within reach of children or pets. Advising consumers to unplug their toasters, coffee makers and other appliances when not in use.
Our second strategy deals with making products safer. For example:
- Cigarette fire safety: At a cost of just pennies, adjustments in cigarette design can be made that will prevent the loss of an estimated 800 lives annually. Currently, all of Canada and an increasing number of U.S. states have enacted laws requiring all cigarettes sold to meet flammability standards. NASFM has always supported the concept of a cigarette that is less likely to ignite upholstered furniture and mattresses. NASFM recognizes that nothing that burns is completely "fire safe," and adults who choose to smoke need to exercise fire safe behavior with tobacco products, as well as with matches and lighters. Tobacco products should be kept out of the reach of children at all times. NASFM does not endorse the purchase or use of any tobacco product.
For the latest list of states that have passed laws or are considering regulation on cigarette fire safety, as well as other information for advocates and the media, please consult the website of the Coalition for Fire Safe Cigarettes™, www.firesafecigarettes.org.
- Lighter safety: The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires all cigarette and multi-purpose lighters to be child-resistant, which has helped reduce deaths dramatically from fires involving lighters. But more can be done.
NASFM has joined in a petition to the CPSC by the Lighter Association to make mandatory the voluntary ASTM F-400 safety standard that would require all lighters sold in and imported for sale into the U.S. to comply with basic safety designs to reduce the incidence of mechanical malfunction. Because the standard is only "voluntary" in the U.S., NASFM is concerned that lighters not in compliance with ASTM F-400 are being diverted into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico, which require F-400 as mandatory.
NASFM supports the efforts of states to pass laws banning the sale of toylike or novelty lighters because of their appeal to children. The European Union has already banned the sale of novelty lighters. States in the U.S. are beginning to realize that many fires can be prevented, and many lives saved, if these products go away.
- Candle safety: NASFM supports the work of the ASTM's Candle Fire Safety Task Group in developing voluntary standards to ensure that a candles, candle holders and other products used with candles are safer - that is, less likely to tip over, flare up or otherwise increase the risk of unwanted fire. NASFM has petitioned the CPSC to make the ASTM voluntary standards into mandatory standards in the U.S.
- Electrical safety: Thousands of products rely on electricity to work. When electric switches and connections malfunction, or wires wear out or are compromised, electricity can ignite fires. NASFM is involved in efforts to make electrical products safer from fire, as well as in promoting technology to prevent electrical fires.
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