Home fires are the single most common disaster in the United States, according to the American Red Cross. In fact, chances are 1 in 4 that a household will have a fire large enough to be reported to the fire department during the average person’s lifetime. In addition, it can take only a few minutes for a house to become engulfed in flames. You and your family need to know how to get out quickly—in two minutes or less, according to Red Cross recommendations.
One way to reduce the chances that someone in your home will be injured or killed in a fire is to create a home fire escape plan. Here are some tips to help you draw up a plan that works for you:
- Start by sketching a map of your home (click here for a printable template from the Red Cross). Locate and mark at least two exits from every room, if possible.
- For bedrooms higher than the ground floor, consider buying escape ladders and storing them near windows. Learn how to use them as part of your escape plan practice(see below).
- If your home has security bars on windows, make sure at least one window in each room is equipped with a quick-release device.
- Include your pets in your home escape plan, by training them to come when you call them, and plan to take them with you when you evacuate. However, do not endanger yourself or other family members trying to save a pet. Place a pet alert window cling with the number and type of family pets on a front window (and keep the information current). This can save time for rescuers searching for your pets. Pet alert decals and clings are inexpensive and readily available, or click here to order a free pet safety pack from the ASPCA that includes a pet alert decal.
- Choose a safe location for all family members to meet after getting out of the house—a streetlamp, mail box, etc.
- Teach children what smoke alarms sound like and what they should do if they hear one.
- Practice waking up to smoke alarms, crawling on the floor to avoid smoke, and dialing 9-1-1.
- Go over what to do if your main escape route is blocked by smoke or flames, or the doors or door handles are warm. Don’t open a door that is warm to the touch. Instead, leave through your second exit if you can. If there is no safe exit, place a wet towel under the door, open a window and signal for help by waving a flashlight or something brightly colored.
- Remind everyone to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes catch fire.
- Emphasize “Get out, stay out.” Don’t go back into a burning building to retrieve anything. Only professional firefighters should enter a burning building.
- Discuss and explain your plan with all family members to make sure they understand what to do. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year, and practice at different times of day.
We hope you never have to experience a home fire. However, if you have a clear fire escape plan for all household members, and practice that plan, you’ll significantly reduce the chance that someone will be hurt or killed.