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Mattresses: Deadly Fire Hazards

It's probably the last thing you want to wake up to in the middle of the night: the smell of smoke and the burning hot flames of your bed on fire.

And yet, United States Deputy Fire Administrator Chief Charlie Dickinson tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that, in the past three years, there have been 150,000 bedroom fires.

"This administration's very concerned about that," he says, pointing out that, though most mattresses are resistant to fire, they are not going to stop the spread of fire. "That's the dilemma (in which) the mattress industry finds itself. Technology has slowed that down," he says.

The number of fire deaths and injuries reported to date from 2003 is not available. However, in 2001, there were an estimated 53,500 residential bedroom fires in the U.S. and 17,800 mattress and bedding fires in the bedroom. Of these, 8,500 were mattress and pillow fires and 9,300 were bedding: blanket, sheet, and comforter fires.

Mattress fires start for all kinds of reasons. Dickinson says, "Smoking is 30 percent that causes the fires in mattresses. More importantly, though, is what the public needs to understand about bedrooms. Not only do the mattresses cause the problems, but the suit you're wearing, the couch we're sitting on, the world we live in is plastic and that's what causes the rapid spread of fire."

Why do mattresses, in particular, burn so quickly? Dickinson says, "I don't have the empirical data that says they burn quicker. I do know they're a product of the synthetic world that we live in and they certainly, like a lamp or couch or chair or anything else that you have in your bedroom, carpet, wall covering, really moves fast when a fire occurs. That's why. There are so many fundamental things a parent or guardian needs to do."

If you find yourself in the midst of a mattress fire, Dickinson says you should remove the child or adult from the bed; close the door to stop the spread of the fire and call the fire department.

He says, "Overwhelmingly, fires begin small. There is a window of opportunity for someone to escape, but it is very brief. We are talking seconds. Fire doubles itself every minute in a mattress fire. But the carbon monoxide is the deadly gas and will kill us before the flames do. Because most mattress fire victims are usually asleep... it's important to have an operating smoke alarm. It's the silent firefighter on duty. A smoke alarm will begin the process to get firefighters to the home."

Here are some steps to take to prevent this type of fire or any fire at home:

Teach and talk to your kids about fires and playing with matches. "Let them know, first of all, that there is a plan," says Dickinson. "Let them know that the exit in the home is important to them. You'd be amazed what a young child will remember. Practice it. The time to do that is not when you have a fire."

Pay special attention to appliances. Dickinson recommends paying special attention to what is in the bedroom, such as "heating appliances, electric heaters, blankets, candles. I am extremely concerned about candles in bedrooms. Young people like to have those. Over 2,000 children in the past three years have died in fires in their home. So it is a very, very serious problem."

Take extra precautions in bed. He notes approximately 8,000 bedroom fires are caused by smoking in bed. Smoking fires are deadly. People fall asleep while they are smoking, and a significant amount people are smoking and drinking.

Install a working smoke alarm. Dickinson says, "If you elect to have fire safety in your home, but somehow you would perish m and your smoke alarm didn't work, we would feel bad. If you're a parent or guardian, don't let that happen to you. A battery saves lives. Batteries in entertainment centers don't save lives."

For more information, contact:
The United States Fire Administration Office of Fire Management Programs 16825 South Seton Avenue Emmitsburg, MD 21727