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Emergency Preparedness & Response

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Common home emergencies, and how to prevent them

Dorothy Gale said "there's no place like home" in "The Wizard of Oz." But what about when homes are no longer safe?

Household emergencies can occur at any time. When disaster strikes, knowing how to proceed effectively can make a world of difference and potentially save lives. Fortunately it's easy to prevent or reduce a wide range of household dangers by embracing some simple safety measures.

• Accidental falls: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that accidental falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injury among nearly every age group. Roughly three million adults age 65 and older experience falls that result in emergency room visits each year in the United States. Falls can be prevented by removing tripping hazards, installing steady handrails and other supports and adding lighting in and around a home. If a fall should occur, stabilize the limb or injured area of the body and seek medical assistance.

• Kitchen fires: The potential for danger exists whenever cooking with heat or over open flames. Kitchen fires may occur, but they don't have to spread or cause serious issues if fast action is taken. Never use water to put out a grease fire — it will only spread it and make it worse. Cover the fire with a lid to suffocate the flames, or use baking soda to douse the fire. Always have an all-purpose fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to operate it.

• Burst pipes: Burst pipes or leaking plumbing can quickly cause major damage in a home. Dwell Residential Group says to locate the water main, which is usually in the basement or garage on the "street side" near the water meter. Turn off the main to save the home and your wallet. Make the water main visible, mark which way is off, and instruct others in the house on how to use it.

• Tipping furniture: Tip-over incidents send thousands of people (especially young children) to emergency rooms each year, says the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Top-heavy items, like dressers, TV stands and televisions, bureaus, and bookcases should be anchored to the wall.

• Unintentional poisoning: People may inadvertently consume household poisons. State Farm advises calling 9-1-1 if the victim is unconscious or not breathing. If the person is alert, consult with the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222 (or the Ontario Poison Centre at 1-800-268-9017) and await instructions. Keep the bottle or packaging of the assumed poison on hand and be prepared to discuss symptoms and personal information about the victim.

• Fire or other danger: No one ever thinks an emergency situation necessitating escape from the home will take place. But to play it safe, residents should designate emergency exits that are the quickest and safest ways out of every room in the house. Practice this plan and pick a specific meeting spot outside.

Safety at home involves knowing how to act fast in an emergency and how to reduce your risk of being in potentially dangerous situations.

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