Each year, fire departments respond to more than one and a half million fires. Burns are the third leading cause of home injury, resulting in more than 3,400 deaths every year. But new Home Safety Council research findings show that only 37 percent of Americans have taken any steps to improve their fire safety and prevention knowledge, protect themselves against fires, and prevent injuries and damage from home fires.
The most effective way to alert the entire family when a fire strikes is to have working smoke alarms on every level of the home. In addition, fire safety and survival depends on every member of the household being prepared for a fire, and knowing exactly what to do in a fire emergency.
The Home Safety Council offers the following guidelines for installing and testing smoke alarms and developing a fire escape plan.
Installing and Testing Smoke Alarms
- Only purchase smoke alarms that are listed by a national testing laboratory, such as UL; look for the listing mark on packaging.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. Make sure there is an alarm near every sleeping area.
- HSC recommends installing additional smoke alarms inside all bedrooms. For the best fire detection and notification protection, install both ionization and photoelectric type smoke alarms. Some models provide dual coverage.
- Smoke rises during a fire, so smoke alarms should be mounted high on walls or ceilings.
- Choose an installation location for a fire alarm that is well away from the path of steam from bathrooms and cooking vapors from the kitchen, which can result in nuisance alarms. Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
- Test each smoke alarm every month. Push the test button until you hear the alarm.
- Put new batteries in your smoke alarms at least one time each year, and any time the alarm signals low battery power , which is typically a chirping noise.
- HSC recommends using interconnected smoke alarms for increased safety. These alarms are available with wireless connection and hard wired with battery back up. Interconnected alarms are linked together so that if one alarm detects a fire, all alarms signal together.
- If your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, get new smoke alarms for the best fire detection.
Plan and Practice a Family Fire Drill
- Make a fire escape plan and share the plan with every member of your family. Sketch out a map of your home, including all rooms, windows, interior and exterior doors, stairways, fire escapes and smoke alarms.
- Make sure windows and doorways open easily when planning your fire escape route. Make sure stairs and doorways are never blocked. Look for things that could slow down your escape from a fire.
- If you have security bars on doors and windows, have a quick release latch on the inside. Make sure everyone in your family knows how to use the latch so they can easily escape if a fire should break out.
- Find two ways out of every room, the door and maybe the window. You might need an escape ladder to get out of upstairs bedroom windows. If so, they should be part of your fire drill. Select two escape routes from each room and mark them clearly on the fire escape plan.
- Children and many older adults will need help escaping a fire. Plan for this. Know who needs help and pick someone to help them. If anyone in the household has a hearing impairment, purchase special smoke alarms that use strobes and/or vibrations to signal a fire.
- Have a place to meet in front of your home when everyone escapes the fire. Use a portable phone or a neighbor’s phone to call 911 to call in the fire. Once you get out, stay out of the home.
- Make copies of the fire escape safety plan sketches and post them in each room until everyone becomes familiar with them.
- Practicing fire drills and a fire escape plan makes perfect. Hold family fire drills frequently and at various times until the escape plans become second nature. Once you’ve mastered the fire escape process, hold a fire drill when family members are sleeping so you can test each family member’s ability to waken and respond to the smoke alarm.
Home Fire Sprinkler Systems: An Added Layer of Protection. A home fire sprinkler system, in addition to working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan, is the best way to stay protected from fire. Unfortunately, recent HSC research shows only 8 percent of U.S. respondents live in a home protected by fire sprinklers, and 41 percent did not know fire sprinklers were a safety option for their home.
Home fire sprinklers detect the high heat from a fire and put water on the flames as soon as a fire starts, limiting the smoke and poisonous gases that a fire produces. Sprinklers will put the fire out or keep it small until firefighters arrive, giving residents more time to escape. Fire sprinklers also protect property and belongings.
If you are buying a home or moving to a new apartment, choose one with a fire sprinkler system. If you are building a home or remodeling your existing home, consider having a home fire sprinkler system installed. Talk to your local fire department for help finding a qualified home fire sprinkler installer.