Fires can spread quickly, especially at night while you are sleeping, and because a closed bedroom door can conceal smoke and heat, you may only have seconds to react by the time you notice the fire. By planning and practicing your escape plan, you can increase your family’s preparedness, enabling them to react more quickly and safely in the event of a fire.
Plan Two Ways Out of Every Room
If fire or smoke blocks your primary exit, you will need a second way out. If you live in a two-story house, consider whether you will escape through a window, roof or balcony, and if you need a portable fire escape ladder. Evaluate each escape route for ease of access.
To help ensure a safe escape, take the following precautions:
- Eliminate clutter on stairs and in hallways.
- Make sure windows open easily and are not blocked or painted shut.
- Be sure window security bars have quick-release mechanisms on the inside that everyone can operate. These security mechanisms will help you escape in the event of a fire without compromising your security from burglary or intruders.
- Ensure locked doors are easy to open from the inside.
- Keep keys to deadbolts accessible and near the door.
It is usually easier to get out of a ground floor room, especially for people who have physical restrictions that may limit their ability to escape. For those with mobility concerns, consider locating their sleeping quarters on the ground floor to help make their evacuation easier in an emergency.
Escaping a fire from a high-rise building poses a different set of challenges. Always check to see what the emergency escape plan is for the building you’re in. A diagram should be posted in every hallway along with clearly marked exits. If you’re going to be staying in the building for the long-term, ask a building supervisor to walk you and your family through the escape plan and always participate in the building’s emergency escape drills.
If a fire breaks out, it may be safer to “defend in place” as opposed to trying to escape the building. If this is the case, call 911 immediately and report the fire and your location inside the building. Keep flashlights and reflective material in each room so that you can signal firefighters from your window so that they can see where you are when they arrive.
Establish a Meeting Place Outside
Choose one location where everyone will meet after escaping so you can quickly account for each household member. Immediately notify firefighters if someone is missing. Select a meeting place away from the house, preferably in the front yard near where firefighters will arrive.
Once you have escaped from a fire:
- Do not allow anyone to go back into the building for any reason, even for pets.
- Notify firefighters immediately if anyone is missing.
Know Your Emergency Number
Teach everyone in your home how and when to use 911. Instruct children that 911 is the only number they should call when there is an emergency. Emergencies that require 911 include, but are not limited to:
- Medical emergencies
- Car accidents with life threatening injuries
- Burglary or suspicious activity
- House fires
It’s also important to teach children that 911 is for emergencies only and should never be prank called. 911 operators track the location of all incoming phone calls and will automatically route police officers to the location of the call.
Once you escape and report to your meeting place, have one family member call 911 from a neighbor's home or cell phone. Do not attempt to call 911 from inside your home during a house fire. It is more important that you use every second possible to escape the house.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing your home fire evacuation plan can help your family feel more confident if a house fire occurs. Follow these guidelines for practicing your plan:
- Schedule fire drills at least twice a year and be sure that everyone participates.
- Practice the fire evacuation plan at night, which is when most fatal home fires start, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
- Practice feeling your way out of the house with your eyes closed to simulate escaping through smoke and darkness.
- Revise your home fire evacuation plan when a family member has a change in their health status, or when there is a temporary or permanent change to your household, such as a visiting grandchild.
Put It in Writing
- Put your escape plan in writing and share it with everyone who stays in your home. Draw a floor plan and mark primary and alternate escape routes from each room of your house.
- Show the meeting location outside your home.
- Post the floor plan near your phone where babysitters, visitors and overnight guests can see it.
Help Firefighters Find You
Help firefighters locate your home quickly in an emergency. Make sure your house number is clearly displayed and visible from the street.
Take Care of Children
Fire injuries and deaths among children often occur because they become frightened and try to hide from the blaze. Preparation and education are keys to preventing such tragedies. A prepared child is more likely to escape unharmed. Talk to children about what to expect if a fire occurs and practice the home fire escape plan with any child who stays at your house.
The Right Equipment for a Home Fire Emergency
Don’t just prepare yourself and your family members for a home fire. Prepare your home too. Make sure you have working fire extinguishers and consider upgrading your home’s fire protection by adding improvements such as an internal sprinkler system.
Recent studies show that the installation of smoke alarms and automatic sprinkler systems saves thousands of lives each year and can help protect against property loss. Many people believe that home sprinkler systems are costly, messy and unattractive however, modern sprinkler systems:
- Discharge water only in the immediate area of the fire.
- Can put out most home fires before the fire department arrives.
- Are unobtrusive.
- Increase the total building costs for a new construction by only 1 to 1.5%.
- May earn the homeowner an insurance premium discount.
When renovating or building a new home, consider installing automatic fire sprinklers to protect your family and your property.
House fire safety comes down to preventing, planning and practicing. Yet even by following the best home fire prevention strategies, accidents can happen - so it’s best to be prepared.
If a home fire breaks out, you and your family may only have seconds to escape. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Plan and practice your escape strategy to ensure you and your family have the best chance to evacuate your house safely in the event of a fire.