According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were over 1.2 million fires in 2013 resulting in 3,240 civilian fire fatalities (home fires were responsible for 2,755 of these fatalities). A civilian fire death happens every 2 hours and 42 minutes, and a civilian fire injury occurs every 33 minutes.
Scary stuff, of course, but the good news is that working fire alarms and smart fire escape plans help save lives. In other words, you and your loved ones don’t need to end up being another statistic.
As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Here’s what you need to know in order to create a fire escape plan that works.
Fire Escape Plan 101:
- Install and test fire alarms. Every level of your home should have at least one working fire alarm (more if you have a large home). Test and change batteries twice a year (a good rule of thumb is to do this the same time you change the clocks in the fall and spring).
- Assemble a fire safety “kit.” We’re not referring to a box of items (like a first aid kit) that you grab when there’s a fire, since the ONLY thing you should focus on is getting yourself out of the house as quickly as possible. We’re talking about items you’ll need specifically for your home. At a minimum, you should invest in the following:
Fire alarms and batteries – again, at least one on every floor (possibly two, depending on how big your home is)
Fire extinguishers – every kitchen should have one, and everyone old enough to operate it should know how to do so safely. You might have other rooms in the home (such as a garage) that you might want to have a fire extinguisher as well. Remember to test/check them at least twice a year.
Fire escape ladders – you’ll likely need these if your home has more than one level and/or if the window in a room serves as an exit and is high up from the ground
Flashlights – every room should have easy access to flashlights in case electricity is cut
- Do a walkthrough of your home with your family. Go through each room of your home and note safe exit points, including doors and windows. Ideally, there should be two ways to exit any given room. Make sure exits are clear and windows/screens go up and down easily. If you have security bars on your windows, make sure everyone knows how to use the quick-release function. You should also take into account escape routes via windows on second or third floors (using fire escape ladders, for example). Make sure everyone understands the route and is capable of completing the route (so keep people with disabilities in mind).
- Map it out on paper. In addition to doing walkthroughs, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends mapping it out on paper as well, especially if you have children. The American Red Cross has an excellent fire escape plan “grid” that you can download for free. You’ll also want to identify a meeting spot outside of the home.
- Make sure everyone in the household understands fire safety “rules.” When a fire alarm goes off, everyone’s main goal should be to get out of the house immediately. Other rules include…
- Follow the escape plan. Stay low and cover your mouth and nose. Do not grab phones, valuables, or search for pets.
- If it’s the middle of the night, yell loudly for others to get up.
- Stop, drop, and roll should clothing catch on fire.
- Avoid opening doors that are hot to touch.
- If you can’t get out, secure yourself in a room, ideally one with a window. Place blankets or clothing (wet, if possibly) under the closed door to keep the smoke from coming in. If possible, get to a bathroom and fill a tub with water. Stand by the window so fire fighters can see you.
- Contact the fire department once you get out of the house.
- Meet in the designated meeting spot.
- Never go back inside, even if a person or pet is missing. Instead, alert a fire fighter once help arrives.
- Conduct regular drills. Some experts suggest monthly, others suggest quarterly. The point is you and your family should be going through these drills at least a few times a year. Don’t just do them for the sake of doing them, either. Everyone should react as if there’s a real fire—this means staying low to the ground (even crawling) to exits. Time people—you and your loved ones may only have a minute or two to get out. Note any problematic exit points (e.g. sticky doors or windows, clutter obstructing an exit). Practice at different times of day (including in the middle of the night). If anyone is confused, learn why and adjust the plan if necessary. Keep practicing until everyone can get out safely in less than two minutes.
- Listen to—and address—your children’s questions and fears. Fires are scary, especially for children. So are fire alarms, which are (and should be) loud. A younger child’s first instinct might be to hide (under the bed, inside a closet). It’s important to calmly discuss this with your children and let them know that if they hear the fire alarm, they shouldn’t hide. If you’re concerned your child might hide during a fire, consider investing in smoke alarms that allow you to record a “wake up” message in your own voice. Kids typically respond to their parents’ voices, especially during emergencies. Here are some other important fire safety do’s and don’ts that will help keep your family safe.
While we hope you and your family never have to deal with a fire, we also hope that if the unthinkable happens, you’re prepared, thanks to a solid fire escape plan.
Main Article Photo By: William Murphy, July 20, 2015 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
In- Article Photo By: Tom Woodward, July 20, 2015 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.