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Fire Prevention Week Is October 9-15
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04:17PM / Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Why It's Such A Hot Topic for Berkshire Homeowners & Renters

With The National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Fire Prevention Week occurring this month, Oct. 9-15, it is the perfect time for your Berkshire County neighborhood insurance agency to talk to you about how your home, condo or renters insurance can provide coverage in case of a fire event.

"Other types of losses are generally out of our hands and those of our clients," says Lori Goodell, assistant vice president and sales manager for Greylock. "But there are so many critical, yet simple, precautions you can take to safeguard against fire. A big part of our role as your insurance agent is to double check that you have implemented them in your home."

 

Fire Safety Tip No. 1: Do You Know How Often You Should Check The Age Of Your Smoke Alarms?

This year, the Fire Prevention Week theme is "Don't Wait: Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years." The NFPA's goal is to raise public awareness about the smoke alarm replacement code, NFPA 72, which requires smoke alarms to be replaced at least every 10 years.

Not aware that your smoke alarm has an expiration date? You're not alone. A recent survey conducted by the NFPA showed that only a small percentage of people know the age of their smoke alarms and how often they need to be replaced. If your home has smoke alarms that are past their expiration date, you and your family are all at an increased risk in the event of a fire.

"A smoke detector is undoubtedly the most critical item to have in your home for your safety," says Duffy Judge, sales manager at Greylock. "When one of our insurance professionals is quoting you a homeowners or renters insurance policy, they'll confirm you have alarms, and how many. You should have smoke alarms inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement."

But it's not enough just to have smoke alarms; they need to be fully functioning ones. Greylock recommends you follow the procedures below to ensure your detectors will alert you and all others in the home in case of danger:

  1. Purchase a UL certified smoke detector which indicates the unit meets important safety standards.
  2. Look for the age of the smoke alarms in your home by looking for the date of manufacture on the back or side of the alarm. No date label? Then your alarms are definitely older than 10 years and must be replaced.
  3. Test the battery and alarm sounder at least monthly.
  4. Replace batteries annually, or when the warning ‘beep' is sounding.
  5. Clean with a vacuum cleaner at least once a year to remove particles that will affect smoke alarm performance.
  6. Never paint a smoke alarm.
  7. Keep the manufacturer's guide for all your smoke alarms, as there are multiple styles and brands that have different instructions on how to change batteries, perform maintenance, and more.  

One other thing to keep in mind is that if you have a combined smoke detector/carbon monoxide detector, the system will actually speak to you if there is an issue in the home. The device will literally say "Fire, Fire, Fire" if it senses smoke, or "CO, CO, CO" for carbon monoxide in the home. Most of these units require replacement every 10 years as well, but again, refer to your manufacturer's guide for details related to your specific unit.

The importance of smoke detectors is, of course, to ensure that you, your family and home are protected. But the bonus reason to have them is that your Greylock insurance agent may be able to save you money on your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Alone or combined with other common home safety protections, these units may make you eligible for some significant policy credits per year.

For multiple reasons, not the least of which is potentially saving your life or that of a loved one, it pays to invest in home protection devices.

 

Fire Safety Tip No. 2: How to Prep Your Fireplace and Chimney For Their Busy Fall and Winter Season

Cooler temperatures also mean that Berkshire homeowners will be using their fireplaces and wood burning stoves soon. Since, according to ThisOldHouse.com, fireplaces and chimneys are involved in 42 percent of all home-heating fires, let's make sure that you've done your proper pre-planning before lighting a spark.

"The thing we emphasize the most with our homeowners who have fireplaces and wood-burning or pellet stoves is to work with a professional chimney sweep to inspect, clean and repair your chimney annually," says Goodell.

Greylock recommends you contact a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) Certified Chimney Sweep. Find a CSIA qualified inspector in your area.

Here are some additional DIY activities that will ensure that the good work of your Chimney Sweep does not go to waste.

  1. Remove all ashes from your fireplace or wood-burning stove. This should actually be done every year at the end of the cold season, but just in case you forgot, do that now. After you get this cleaned up, you won't need to remove all the ash after every fire. According to CSIA, having a 1-inch layer of ash makes it easier to build and maintain a fire. Don't forget to have a closed metal container outside for disposal of ashes.
  2. Use "clean" firewood. Select dense wood, like oak, that's been split and stored in a high, dry place for at least 6 months. Stay away from green wood and resinous softwoods like pine that produce a lot more creosote, a flammable by-product of combustion that can build up in the chimney. Creosote buildup is responsible for approximately 75 percent of all chimney fires.
  3. Brush up on your fire-building technique. Fires should be small; if they are too large or too hot they can crack your chimney. Also, the larger the fire, the more creosote buildup. Fire logs should be placed at the rear of the fireplace on a metal grate and, to start the fire, use kindling, rather than flammable liquids.
  4. Buy a spark guard, or replace an old or damaged one. A mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors will protect your home, and those enjoying the fire, from flying embers. And never let a fire burn unattended or overnight. 

Special Insurance Advice for Wood-Burning and Pellet Stoves

If you're a Berkshire homeowner that loves to use a wood-burning or pellet stove for home-heating, it's important to know that these options come with special insurance requirements and additional fire hazards.

"When a supplemental heating source is present in the home, certain unique requirements must be met for insurance purposes," explains Goodell. "Your Greylock agent will take considerable care when working with you to ensure that you are in compliance and aware of the additional safety issues."

If you are thinking about getting a wood-burning or pellet stove to keep you warm this winter, here are some important purchase and installation tips from Greylock:

  1. Purchase a UL certified stove which indicates the unit meets important safety standards.
  2. Get a building permit for installation.
  3. Have the unit professionally installed by a licensed contractor, appliance distributor, or licensed expert.
  4. Request an inspection by the building inspector.
  5.  Check and double check the placement of the stove to make sure it is at least 36 inches away from combustible materials, like floors, walls and ceilings; and that the stove pipe has 18 inches of clearance.
  6. Place the stove on a noncombustible, fire resistant base that extends at least 6 inches from sides and back and 18 inches from the side where the ashes are removed.

While doors, windows and vents help circulate the air in your home, your chimney has the most important function; carrying dangerous flue gases from your fireplace, wood stove and your furnace safely out of your home. With so much responsibility, we believe it deserves special attention and care all year round.

 

Fire Safety Tip No. 3: Precautions You Can Take To Avoid A Fire While Cooking

The biggest cooking (and eating) holidays of the year are quickly approaching. The Greylock team wants to make sure that the food you make has a lasting impression on your guests because it tastes so delicious, and not because it caused a smoke or fire catastrophe.

"Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, fire departments across the U.S. respond to hundreds of home fires," says Adams Fire Chief Paul J. Goyette.

These fires cost billions of dollars in property damage.

Distracted cooking tops the list of reasons why a fire can start. Here are the revealing facts from an NFPA survey

  • 42 percent of people surveyed said they left the kitchen to talk or text on the phone.
  • 35 percent left to use the computer or check email while the food was cooking.
  • 45 percent, or nearly half, left the room to watch t.v. or listen to music.
  • One in 10 adults has actually left their home completely while cooking!

Just like multi-tasking while driving is a no-no, so is losing your focus on your cooking.

Other dangerous cooking behaviors include disabling your smoke alarm while cooking, not cleaning up excess grease or food, not having a fire extinguisher nearby, and forgetting to turn off burners.

Also, says Chief Goyette, do not leave anything combustible on your stovetop.

"We've seen many kitchen fires that ignited as a result of a morning paper, dish rag, or cutting board left on or by the stove," he says. "Many times the resident does not even know they or a family member have accidentally turned on a burner by brushing against it."

Greylock wants you to have a wonderful, stress-free time over the holidays, so please take cooking safety seriously to ensure that it will be a joyous season for all.

 

Fire Safety Tip No. 4:  How To Safely Get Rid Of Yard Waste

The hint of color on the trees here in the Berkshires means that autumn is just around the corner. And with the change in season will come one of a homeowners biggest chores: raking and discarding piles of leaves, twigs, and sticks.

It may seem like burning is the best method. But – and this is a very big but – it's illegal across the state of Massachusetts, along with burning grass, hay, stumps, building debris and tires. The reason? Leaves do not burn "cleanly" according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Burning leaves creates an acrid smoke and adds chemicals, such as hydrocarbons or carbon monoxide, to the air. This causes more than just a nuisance; for many people it can threaten their health, especially if they have asthma or lung problems.

Plus, and quite obviously, burning leaves presents a significant fire hazard. In the midst of leaf burning, weather can turn rapidly, as it often does here in the Berkshires, and any change in winds or other atmospheric conditions can make a controlled situation suddenly very unsafe.

In most Berkshire County towns and cities, homeowners are allowed to burn brush, cane, driftwood and forestry debris, but only from Jan. 15 to May 1, and under tight restrictions. Also, there are several communities in Massachusetts that completely forbid residential open burning. Always check your town or city website for specific information for your area. You can also call the MA Open Burning Hotline at 617-556-1021 with any questions.

Instead of burning, Greylock recommends our homeowners bag or bury yard waste. Yes, we know it's a pile of work, but these methods significantly reduce fire hazards, are great for the health of your lawn, and are far less irritating to your neighbors.

 

What To Do If A Home Fire Happens To You

If, despite using all of the best safety practices, a fire does start in your kitchen, in your yard, or in your chimney, it's important to act fast, but wisely.

You may be able to smother a small kitchen fire in the oven or microwave by cutting off oxygen. So, if it's safe, turn off the heat and close the door. For a stovetop fire, cover the pot or pan with a lid or cookie sheet. If you can't safely put a lid on it, you can try pouring on baking soda which will extinguish grease fires, but only if they're small. Otherwise, use your fire extinguisher aiming at the base of the fire, not the flames. Never throw water on a grease fire!

In case of chimney or brush fire, call 911. And, no matter where the fire starts, the moment it begins to spread, evacuate everyone in your home immediately. Then, and only then, call for help.

Chief Goyette wants to make certain Berkshire residents are aware that if you make a 911 call from your cell phone, you may be routed to the police dispatch in Northampton, rather than to your local dispatch.

"Do not hang up if you get a different location than you expected," he says. "Instead, be prepared to tell them all the key details of your situation immediately; that you are calling to report a fire and what your address is, including your town, so they can redirect your call quickly."

You won't have the same issue if you're calling from a tried-and-true landline, which will direct your call to your local dispatch center.

After you are safely out of your home and have called 911, the next call would be to us. "When a fire happens to you and your family, it can feel like a cataclysmic event," says Duffy. "Our role as your insurance agent is to do everything possible to help relieve the stress of the situation by assuring you that your home and your belongings will be covered. We offer 24/7 customer service report, so there is no such thing as 'after hours' for us."

Greylock also wants to stress the importance of reporting a fire event, no matter how minor, to the fire department. In the heat of the moment, you may not realize there are damages to an oven hood, cabinets, or appliances. If after the fact you want to file a claim for repairs, your insurance agent is going to ask for the fire department's incident report. However, if there is no record of the fire, then it's likely there will be no coverage for the repairs or any related cleanup you desire.

Another good reason to call the fire department, no matter how minor the incident, is for your safety. "You may think you have removed the threat of fire, when in reality it's not completely out," warns Chief Goyette. "Let the professionals take a look and confirm that it's been extinguished and that your home is safe."

Greylock's experienced insurance professionals are happy to speak with you about all your fire prevention questions or concerns. But you can also find a wealth of fire safety information on mass.gov.

 

Greylock Insurance Has You and Your Home Covered

"We work closely with our clients to make sure their home and belongings are covered for the proper amount," says Goodell. "If you are a house or condo owner in particular, it's important for you to clearly understand that what you bought your home for may not be the same amount that you might need to replace everything in case of a total loss. Our job as your insurance agent is to thoroughly walk you through the difference between replacement value and actual cash value, so that you feel comfortable and secure with the policy we design for you."

If you are a renter, it's essential to understand that any insurance your landlord may have is solely for the building structure. It will not – repeat, will not – cover anything you personally own. Look around your place. How many years would it take for you to replace all of your electronics, furniture, sports equipment, clothes, dishes, etc. if lost in a fire? Instead of fretting over it, you can just take a few dollars a month out of the cookie jar and put it towards a renters insurance policy. It is potentially the one and only investment that you are guaranteed not to regret!

One last tip for Berkshire residents from your neighbors at Greylock Insurance is to take the time to make a record of everything in your home. It will never be an easy situation when you have a loss due to fire, but possessing a video, pictures, or a written list of everything in your home is going to remove the stress of trying to remember it all. There are a variety of home inventory tools out there; just make sure that you keep a copy of this invaluable list in a fire safe box.

Do you know what is covered by your home, condo or renters insurance policy in case of partial or total loss because of fire or smoke damage? At Greylock, your agent will make sure you understand your policy, what protections it provides, and that the coverage is exactly suited to your specific situation. Most important, we will walk you through the claims process so you will be prepared just in case. In the event you ever need to file a claim, we will provide compassionate and knowledgeable customer support. Contact us or stop by one of our six convenient Massachusetts offices for more information.

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