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Fires and Safety

Your local fire department can help devise a fire escape plan.

Families should conduct periodic fire drills. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Families should conduct periodic fire drills.

Fires and Safety

In order to be prepared in the event of a fire, families should establish a plan that deals with fires and safety in the home. The U.S. Fire Administration states that 4,000 Americans die in fires each year. Since a small flame can turn into a larger fire in as little as 30 seconds, it is important that families create and practice a fire escape plan. Many fire departments will assist families with fire drills and fire escape plans -- all a family needs to do is call their local fire department and ask for fire safety assistance.

Fire Escape and Safety Plan

The first step in creating a fire escape plan is drawing an outline and floor plan of the home. Using grid paper, or printing out an online grid, makes drawing the layout easier. A proper escape plan shows all windows and doors in the house and has arrows indicating at least two ways out of every room, according to the City of Phoenix Fire Department.

The next step in establishing a fire safety plan is explaining to all family members exactly what to do in case of a fire. Some recommendations from the U.S. Fire Administration include:

  • Instructing family members to leave the home immediately, without worrying about grabbing personal items or calling the fire department
  • Talking to young children about not fearing firefighters, who are there to help
  • Explaining the importance of never opening a closed door that feels hot and shutting doors to keep smoke out
  • Demonstrating how to crawl through smoke-filled rooms while covering the nose and mouth with a piece of cloth
  • Reviewing how to open windows and screens and quickly remove safety bars
  • Showing where collapsible ladders for escaping from an upper floor window are stored and how to operate them
  • Identifying an outside meeting place that is a safe distance from the house

Certain family members should be designated to help rescue infants, toddlers and disabled persons who cannot escape on their own. After explaining the fire escape procedure, it is a good idea to copy the fire escape plan and give a copy to each family member.

Fire Drills

Once a family understands the basics of getting out of their house during a fire, the family can practice carrying out their escape plan through fire drills. The act of role-playing what to do in an emergency makes it easier for a person to remember in the occurrence of an actual fire. It is helpful to practice the fire escape plan both during the day and again at night.

To make a fire drill seem more realistic, the Barre Fire Department suggests practicing choosing the safest escape route by pretending that certain areas of the home are blocked by fire or smoke. This allows families to rehearse crawling under smoke to prevent suffocation and closing doors to contain smoke. Family members may want to practice using a ladder if they are escaping from a multi-story home (children can practice on first floor windows). If escape is not possible, family members can utilize the seal-in method by using towels or duct tape to block spaces under and around doors and cracking windows slightly to let in air. Another important component of fire safety drills is reviewing how to tell emergency professionals the exact location of the room the family is in.

According to the City of Phoenix,  most home fires happen between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., and the most deaths occur between midnight and 4 a.m. Therefore, practicing a fire drill at night is important, especially if the family includes young children. Parents and guardians may want to give children an advance warning about the night-time fire drill so that they are not frightened. The goal of the drill is to make sure that everyone wakes up in the event of a fire and utilizes the proper response. One way to initiate a nighttime fire drill is by pushing the smoke detector alarm, which will ensure that everyone knows what the sound means. It is beneficial to continue practicing daytime and nighttime fire drills at least twice a year to keep the safety plan fresh in the family's mind.

Fire Safety Equipment

It is important that proper fire safety equipment is installed throughout the house and provided in each bedroom. A functioning smoke alarm is one of the most important pieces of fire safety equipment a house can have, and it can double the chances of the family's survival. In order for a smoke alarm to be effective, at least one alarm should be placed on each level of a home, and the batteries should be replaced every year so that they remain current.

Safety caps on electrical outlets are another beneficial fire prevention tool. Small children can stick a variety of objects into electrical sockets, causing not only fire but also serious injury.

Families with fireplaces should invest in fire screens to help prevent sparks from popping out onto carpets and furnishings. It is also a good idea for families to invest in fire extinguishers, which help put out small fires before they become large fires. For added protection, a family may decide to equip each bedroom with a small fire extinguisher, in addition to storing a main fire extinguisher in a central room of the house. For families seeking the utmost in fire prevention, home fire sprinklers are a solid bet; they kick on at the first sign of heat, helping to douse flames and increasing the chance of a family's survival. All of these pieces of equipment, along with the fire escape plan, can help prevent and control a home fire.

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