Fire is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the home; but by being prepared to handle this emergency, you can help your family safely exit your home in the event of a fire.
Fire safety and survival begins with everyone in your household being prepared. Your overall safety plan should include taking every precaution to prevent fire in your home. Sometimes, however, fires do occur despite our best efforts at prevention. In the event of a fire in your home, your first priority is to alert your family quickly and get everyone out safely. A fire safety plan can help give you the precious extra time you'll need. Being prepared beforehand is especially important -- many fires happen at night, and being awakened by a smoke alarm is a disorienting experience, even for adults.
The Escape Plan
After you have taken precautions against fire, you can concentrate on a warning system and an escape plan. Discuss this critical issue in a planned family meeting when you have everyone's attention; a simple discussion around the dinner table is probably not a good idea since your family may be distracted.
Develop a complete floor plan of your home, including all rooms, windows, interior and exterior doors, stairways, fire escapes and smoke alarms. Make sure that every family member is familiar with the layout. Work out two escape routes from each room and mark them clearly on the plan. If you live in a multi-story home, you should plan an escape exit on each floor. A fire escape ladder that attaches to a windowsill should be stored in each room or apartment on the second level or higher. Make sure each family member who is old enough knows how to use the ladder. If you live in an apartment with a fire escape, make sure each family member knows how to get to it and to use it. Ensure that family members with special needs, such as the elderly or small children, have a buddy to ensure their safety. Since young children will be very frightened in a real fire situation it is very important to explain to them that they need to get out of the house and they should NOT hide somewhere if they're scared.
In addition to the sounding smoke alarm, you may want to agree on a signal, such as someone yelling "Fire," that notifies everyone to leave - this signal should mean that everyone gets out immediately. Even when you're not sure if it's real, play it safe and evacuate immediately since fire spreads so rapidly. You won't have time to investigate. Since today's kids are so familiar with the 911 system, make sure they understand that they should get out of the house first and then go somewhere else such as to a neighbor's house to call 911. As a part of your plan, designate a place to meet outside immediately so that everyone can be accounted for. Once there, count heads and assign a family member to go to a neighbor's to call 911. Be sure to tell the dispatcher your name and address. Also tell them if anyone is still in the house.
Practice, Practice, Practice - Fire Drills
Every second counts during a real fire. In the beginning, hold fire drills frequently and at various times until the escape plans become second nature. Make copies of the escape plan sketches and post them in each room until everyone becomes familiar with them. Vary the drill itself, practicing different fire scenarios so everyone will be prepared for different situations. Remember, your goal is to have practiced your drill so well that it's second nature for your family. If everyone is prepared they will be less likely to get confused or forget what to do.
NFPA recommends holding fire drills regularly, at least twice a year. However, a fire drill at least once a month is a good idea especially if you have younger children.
A Few Words About Fire
After preparing your escape routes and planning your drills, make sure your family understands a few things about the nature of fire and how to move around in a smoke-filled home.
When exiting through a closed door, stop and feel it first. First check the door itself, and then with the BACK of your hand, quickly touch the doorknob. If the door is very hot, the fire is probably very close, it's time to use the second exit plan.
If you feel the door and it's safe to open, make sure you're standing behind the center of the door so that if there is hot air, smoke or flames on the other side, the door will offer you protection and you can close it again using the weight of your body. Open it just a crack, if there appears to be no smoke or flames, leave by your planned escape route.
If your exit is blocked by smoke or flame, try using your second exit. However, if you must go through smoke to escape, remember that the freshest and coolest air is close to the floor.
Crawling low under the smoke is the best way to move through a smoke-filled house. When you're crawling, your hands are able to feel out ahead of you for hot spots. They will also warn you of a soft floor, or even one that isn't there anymore. When going down a flight of stairs, go backwards so if the stairs have been burned away you can react quickly and grab something above you to hang on. Visibility is also better near the floor because smoke rises.
Make sure each member of your family understands what to do if they catch on fire. Tell them to stop where they are, drop to the floor or ground, and roll over and over or back and forth to smother the flame.
Now is the perfect time to make sure your family has a Fire Safety Plan. No amount of time you spend on these drills will be wasted if it helps save their lives one day.
*The above information was provided by the Home Safety Council. Visit their website at www.homesafetycouncil.org.