In the next two hours, someone in the United States will die in a fire, and the National Fire Protection Association says 80% of these deaths will occur in the home. Surviving a house fire is a matter of having proper protection systems in place so you are alerted before it’s too late, and being prepared with an escape plan so you can get out even in difficult conditions.
In terms of equipment, the first absolute must is to place smoke detectors on every floor and in bedrooms occupied by children and elderly family members, as they often have the hardest time waking. Test the smoke detectors every month and replace their batteries every year.
The second absolute must is to keep an ABC-rated fire extinguisher in each of the following places: kitchens, workshops, laundry rooms and near any fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. Read the labels and instructions to familiarize yourself with how they work well before you ever have to use them.
Make a plan
The best defense being a good offense, planning for fire is critical. Draw a floor plan of your home; then meet with the entire family to talk about how you might get out depending on the location of a fire. “Move” the fire around and plan alternate escape routes on paper.
Live the fire in your mind from every room in your house. Go to each room, close your eyes and find the exit, then find a second exit in case the first one is not available. Imagine what furnishings or other room landmarks you would have to feel for to determine whether or not you were headed toward a room’s exit in the event of a fire. Remember that smoke makes it hard to see as well as breathe.
Identify gear that might help, like escape ladders permanently mounted under your windows (not tucked away in the back of a closet where they will be impossible to access in a smoke-filled room). Figure out where the flashlights will go in every room. Use this powerful moment of visualizing fire to explain to your kids why the flashlight isn’t a toy and always has to stay in its designated place.
Closed-door policy: Make a habit of sleeping with bedroom doors closed. Closed doors help to slow down and even prevent the spread of fire, while open doors allow potentially fatal entry of toxic gasses and smoke.
Make sure to maintain: If you have a fireplace or wood stove, have the flue cleaned well before heating season. Keep electrical appliances in good repair, and store matches and combustible liquids well out of the reach of children.
Being alerted and having time to get out of your home during a fire comes down to having the right equipment in the right setup and knowing how to find the exits even while crawling through heavy smoke. Following these tips for fire safety will help you and your family increase your chances of survival in the event of a house fire.