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Home Fire Safety - Creating Your Family Escape Plan

Submitted by US Inspecton October, 8 2013

Do you have a family fire escape plan? If so, do you practice it? In recognition of National Fire Prevention week, let's talk about how to create and practice your family escape plan.

Each year millions of dollars in property are lost due to residential fires. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that over 350,000 homes are affected by its devastation annually. But worse than any financial cost is the loss of life to pets and family members.

Take a moment to think of all the ways in which your home may be vulnerable to fire. Do you own a charcoal grill? Do you have a dryer? Do you have a refrigerator? Do you often relax in the ambiance of your gas fireplace? Do you know that according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) careless smoking is the leading cause of residential fire deaths?

Fire is a very real and powerful potential danger that every homeowner must consider. Fire safety experts say that 1-2 minutes evacuation time is all that is available in many cases. That's why it is so important to have a Family Fire Escape Plan and to clearly communicate your plan to every member of the family.

  • Conduct a family meeting. Clearly communicate, verbally and with the use of drawings, the importance of knowing and understanding the procedures to be followed in the event of a fire. Plan a visit to a fire station and let younger members of the household view a firefighter in all his/her gear. Young children are often frightened when encountering a firefighter for the first time.
  • Demonstrate and test smoke (fire) alarms. Demonstrate the sound of the smoke (fire) alarm in your house by pressing the test button, so that everyone has heard it ahead of time, especially small children. At a minimum, alarms should be installed on each level of the home and in each bedroom. Alarms should be tested monthly, replacing batteries semi-annually.
  • Establish Alternate Routes. Ensure two possible exits in each sleeping room with windows and doors that can always be unlocked and opened quickly.
  • Equip Rooms with Escape Ladders. Store a fire escape ladder in each second floor bedroom.
  • Keep Flashlights on Hand. A working flashlight or method for signaling out the window of each second floor bedroom should be available and quickly retrievable.
  • Utilize Natural Fire Barrier. Sleep with bedroom doors closed, when possible, to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. Teach family members to touch the door for heat before opening.
  • Establish a Rendezvous Point. Designate a special meeting place once outside, preferably at the front of the home. Physically count all members.
  • Know The Plan. Call 9-1-1 once outside the home.
  • Know This Life Saving Rule. Instruct all members that no one is to return to the interior of the house once outside.
  • Have Practice Drills. Schedule a daylight drill, then a nighttime drill. Then do a drill with your eyes closed. Designate in advance a chain of command of household members. 

Special things to Communicate to Your Preschooler

Don't underestimate what you little ones can learn and remember when it comes to the fire plan. The moment you mention the items on the list below, you've gone a long way toward making your preschooler safer in the event of a real fire. Put yourself in your child's shoes and remember that this age group thrives on routine, so give them permission to break some of their very established routines in order to keep them safe.

  • Never hide under your bed in a fire.
  • Always, immediately exit using your escape plan without pausing to find favorite stuffed animals or blankets, etc. "Mommy can replace those things, but she can't replace you."
  • Don't worry about your shoes or coat! Mommy, gives you permission to leave the house as you are!
  • Don't worry about closing the door behind you either.
  • Don't look for mommy or daddy, just get to the "safe spot" as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Do not go back into the house until a fireman or other adult tells you it's okay.
  • If you have a toddler or baby to tend to, your preschooler could likely be the first person to get to the rendezvous location in the event of a real fire--so practice this! During a few of your practices, let him "be first" and experience finding the safe spot on his own and waiting there a few moments before you join him. You'll want to address, once again, resisting the temptation to go back inside the house in search of others. Consider talking about a song or rhyme he can say while he's patiently waiting. 

Go over the items on this list and then help your preschooler make this new procedure a familiar routine by practicing your fire escape plan often.