According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2012, there were an estimated 365,000 reported home structure fires and 2,380 associated civilian deaths in the United States.
If a fire breaks out in your home, you may have less than a couple minutes to get out safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Everyone needs to know what to do and where to go if there is a fire. The easiest way out of your home is not always the safest way out during a fire.
Basic Fire Escape Planning
- Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. For easy planning, download NFPA's escape planning grid. This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.
- Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Test smoke alarms monthly using a broom handle to reach test buttons and replace batteries yearly.
When you change your clocks at Daylight Savings, change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Choose an outside meeting place, such as, a neighbor’s house, a mailbox, stop sign, etc., in the front yard and a safe distance from the home where everyone can meet up after they have escaped. Make sure to mark this meeting place location on the escape plan.
- Check to make sure all doors and windows can be opened easily. If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Emergency release devices won't compromise your security - but they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.
- Is your house number clearly visible from the street? If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.
- Make arrangements in your escape plan for family members that may have special needs, such as, infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations. Make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency.
- Use an escape ladder(s) to provide a way out from the second or third floor. See below for more information about escape ladders.
- Be fully prepared in the event of a real fire! When smoke alarms sound, get out immediately and stay out!
- Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the dispatcher when you call 9-1-1. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.
Practicing Your Home Escape Plan
- Practice your home fire escape plan twice a year. Make the drill as realistic as possible, especially for young children. Practicing the plan should include every member of the household.
- It's important to determine during the drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, assign someone to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation.
- If your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. Escape ladders should be placed in or near windows to provide an additional escape route. Practice setting up the ladder so you learn how to do it quickly and correctly.
- Store the ladder near the window or in an easily accessible location in the bedroom. There is no time to search for it during a fire.
Review the manufacturer's instructions carefully so you'll be able to use a safety ladder in an emergency. Escape ladders are available for purchase through retailers, including hardware and major department stores. NFPA recommends one ladder in every occupied room on floors above the main level.
- Choose the safest escape route – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do a fire drill, everyone in the family should practice crawling low under the smoke to exit.
- As you exit, close doors behind you to help slow the spread of fire and smoke, giving you more time to escape. In some cases, smoke or fire may prevent you from exiting. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice "sealing yourself in for safety" as part of your home fire escape plan.
- Close all doors between you and the fire.
- Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in.
- If possible, open windows so fresh air can get in.
- Call 9-1-1 to report your exact location.
- Signal for help! Wave a flashlight or clothing item/cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.