His House Burned: Now He’s Trying to Keep Your Family Safe

Junk Drawer batteryOn April 21, 2011 Dave Miller survived an extraordinary and terribly painful experience – he watched as his house burned down. The cause – something he never would have suspected: his old 9-volt batteries.

Ironically the fire was the unintentional result of an act he (like many of us) performed regularly to keep his family safe: every Daylight Savings Time he replaced the batteries in his smoke detectors. According to Dave, after installing the new batteries, he had placed the old 9-volt batteries in a paper bag to take to recycling and stored them in the garage. That is where the blaze began.

Here is Dave’s story…

According to the official fire report, the loose batteries came together and shorted. Unfortunately, with 9-volt batteries it doesn’t take much – especially since the positive and negative terminals are located on the same side and so close together. For those of you that read this and wonder how is this possible (like I have to admit I did upon first reading this), according to an advisory issued by New Hampshire’s Fire Marshall, and echoed by firefighters and insurance adjusters around the country, the danger is in fact, very real. Junk drawers are an especially volatile environment.

According to Grandview, MO, Fire Department Chief Chuck Thacker a 9-volt battery can easily spark and fuel a fire, especially in the inviting environment of a household junk drawer. “There’s all the other stuff; car keys, whatever else in there,” he said. “If the conditions get right, you touch something against the two contacts, then you could have a heating event.” The chief said it only takes one metallic object; something like a paper clip, key or bit of steel wool touching the battery’s posts to fuel a fire.

For Dave Miller, batteries in a paper bag that got bumped by a laundry bin resulted in a house that burned down. And a message that he is on a mission to pass on to other families:

There’s only one safe way to dispose of a 9-volt battery. Place a piece of electrical tape over the terminals so that they’re completely covered. What takes a few moments could save your home, or your family’s lives.

Other key fire safety messages he hopes you will share with your family are posted on his kidsandcharacter.com website:

  • Get out and stay out – this is your number one goal in a fire!
  • Every second matters. Don’t waste time gathering belongings – they aren’t worth your life.
  • Make sure every exit is clear.
  • Know two ways out of every room.
  • Fire extinguishers are tools for escape only. If a fire is larger than a small trash can, a fire extinguisher won’t put it out.

One final thought:

…on its packaging, battery company Energizer suggests that travelers cover battery terminals with insulated tape.

…on that note, I think I will be taping all my future batteries before disposal. What about you???

About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


6 Responses to “His House Burned: Now He’s Trying to Keep Your Family Safe”

  1. Jen says:

    Who would know? The recommendations in case of fire is great as well. We should check the nearest exits in a new place like hotels or restaurants. Also, owners of these establishments must make sure that fire exist doors are free from any obstruction. In my time, I have surveyed many such premises and found that some of the fire exit doors are even locked. That makes knowing two ways of exiting a property extra valuable. Thanks for the article.

  2. Felix Nagel says:

    As much as proper recycling helps the environment, it also helps give us the proper knowledge to understand how the materials that compose such a thing reacts to several other materials, giving you a knowledge on how to safely store those materials as well.

    All for safety and cost efficiency.

  3. Stefanie Zucker sazucker says:

    I didn’t either until I heard his story. Very scary!! Now I tape every battery before throwing them out!

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