The 7 Things to Consider when Developing a Plan to Help your Family Escape a Fire

Advance planning is critical to surviving a fire. Fire spreads rapidly through a home and the thick smoke makes it difficult to see and breathe. Once the alarm sounds, you may have less than two minutes to escape safely.

If you and your family don’t have a home escape plan, the time to develop one is now…not when you’re awakened by a blaring smoke alarm at 2:00 am.

Below are some general guidelines to help you develop a workable fire escape plan for your household…

  1. First of all, every home needs a fire warning system. Don’t be fooled into thinking the smell of smoke will wake you up…it won’t. You must have working smoke alarms installed outside every sleeping area and on every level of your home. If your alarms operate on batteries, it is recommended you replace the batteries at least once a year to ensure they are always fresh. A good reminder for replacing the smoke alarm batteries is to do it when you adjust the clocks for daylight saving time. Also, the smoke alarms themselves will likely need replacing after 8-10 years. Check the instructions that came with your particular model of alarm regarding its expected lifespan.
  2. Walk through your home and determine all possible exits and means of escape. You need at least two ways out of each room – usually a door and a window – in case smoke or fire is blocking your first exit choice. Check to make sure the doors and windows can be opened easily and will allow escape.
  3. When creating your family fire escape plan, include every member of your household so they will all understand exactly what to do. If there are very young children, or family members with mobility limitations, assign someone to assist them in the event of an emergency. Instruct older children how to escape on their own in the event you are unable to help them.
  4. When escaping, you should always choose the route that has the least amount of smoke and heat. If you have no choice but to escape through smoke, crawl on your hands and knees. Since smoke rises, the air nearest the floor will be cleaner and cooler. Also, before opening a closed door to escape, feel the door. If it feels warm, use another escape route. If the door does not feel warm, stay low to the floor and open it slowly. Be prepared to close it quickly if there is smoke or fire in the hallway. If you can safely pass through a door, remember to close it on your way out as that will slow the spread of the fire.
  5. If your residence has two floors, everyone (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. For rooms higher than ground level, consider purchasing an escape ladder for each occupied room and then have everyone practice using it.
  6. Once you’ve escaped, do not go back inside. Select a safe place for everyone to meet outside, such as a neighbor’s driveway, a light pole, street sign or other location that is a safe distance from the house. If you don’t have a cell phone with you, call the fire department from a neighbor’s home or ask them to call.
  7. Most fire departments recommend practicing your fire exit plan twice a year. All family members should practice an escape at night and during the day, using different ways out. It’s important to determine during the nighttime drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If not, assign someone to wake them during the home fire drill and in the event of a real emergency. Also, when practicing, pretend some exits are blocked to figure out how to use alternative exits.

In some cases, the fire and smoke may be too intense for a safe exit. You may have to prepare to seal yourself into a room. To keep smoke from reaching you, close as many doors as you can between you and the fire. Use towels or clothing (wet if possible) or duct tape to seal the door cracks. Cover all air vents to keep out smoke. Open your windows at the top and bottom to let in fresh air but be prepared to close them quickly if smoke blows in from the outside. Avoid breaking the window as then you will be unable to close it in the event smoke enters.

Even if the fire department is on the scene, use a phone (if available) to call in your exact location. Shine a flashlight or wave a light-colored fabric so it can be seen from the window.

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