A small fire can become large and deadly in a matter of minutes. When a fire breaks out, there is no time for planning. You must be prepared ahead of time so that you can move quickly, calmly and carefully to a safe area. Here are five tips that you can follow to prepare in advance should you ever find yourself in a home fire.
1. Take Precautions
Taking precautionary measures can greatly reduce your risk for a home fire. Therefore, it’s important to know where you’re vulnerable, in order to take corrective steps. For example, more people die in fires started by smoking materials than in any other type of fire. Thus, if anyone smokes in your home, always check for discarded smoking materials or dropped ashes, especially in or near bedding, clothing, mattresses or upholstered furniture as these are some of the materials most commonly ignited.
2. Check Your Smoke Alarms
Working smoke alarms save lives. When properly installed and maintained, smoke alarms can alert you and your family to developing fires, giving you more time to escape. One-half of all home fire deaths occur in the 6% of homes that do not have smoke alarms.
When smoke alarms fail to work, it is usually because the batteries are dead, disconnected or missing. Be vigilant about testing your alarms every month, replacing the batteries every six months, and buying new alarms every 10 years. And always keep batteries in your smoke alarms; never remove them except to replace them with fresh batteries.
Whenever there are changes to your household (e.g., a family member begins to use a medication that causes drowsiness, an aging parent with hearing impairment moves in), evaluate the number and types of alarms in your home. If needed, install additional alarms or use models with flashing lights or vibrations to be sure that everyone will be alerted in the event of a fire.
3. Have an Escape Plan
Heat and smoke from a first floor fire can make stairs to other floors impassable. You may not be able to move through the house once the fire begins to spread, which means that you may not be able to use your front door to escape. Therefore, regardless of your home’s floor plan, be sure to identify two escape routes in each room.
In addition, you’ll want to establish a meeting place outside. Be sure to consider the functional abilities of everyone in your home, revising your escape plan if a family member’s health changes or if there is a temporary or permanent change to your household, such as a visiting grandchild.
A fire escape plan is not effective unless everyone understands the details. Put the plan in writing to share with everyone—including visitors. Draw up a floor plan; mark the primary and alternate escape routes from each room; and indicate where the meeting location is outside of your home. Post the floor plan in several locations where everyone can see it.
4. Practice with Fire Drills
Making, practicing and following an escape plan will help you and your family get out quickly in the event of a fire. Everyone in your household should participate in fire drills at least twice a year, or whenever there are changes to your household.
Be sure to practice the plan at night, too; nighttime fires are particularly dangerous. More than half of all home fire deaths occur between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., when most people are sleeping and are more likely to be overcome by smoke before they can escape. A smoke alarm near each sleeping area can alert people to a developing fire, giving them more time to get out safely.
In addition to varying when you carry out the drills, pretend that some of the escape routes are blocked. That will give you and your family a chance to prepare for the unexpected.
5. Think Ahead
Even under the best of conditions, you and your family only have a few precious minutes to safely evacuate should a fire occur in your home. And escaping a fire is more difficult and takes more time if you must help someone else.
Fire can harm all of us; however, young children and older adults face the greatest risk for injury and death from home fires. Young children are particularly vulnerable because they have limited control of their environment and a reduced ability to react appropriately. Education and preparation are key elements in preventing fire tragedies among children of all ages.
Disease-related conditions, which are more prevalent in later life, are the primary causes of some functional limitations that would put an older person at greater risk during a fire—namely, limitations in vision, hearing, mobility or judgment. These impairments may hinder a person’s ability to detect a fire or escape its effects.
Any adult who would have difficulty escaping a fire should sleep on the first floor in a room that has a door leading directly outside. It’s a good idea to install a telephone in this sleeping area and to make sure it is within easy reach, with the local emergency phone numbers posted nearby.
Thinking ahead also means having the right home insurance. Make sure you have enough coverage to safeguard your home and belongings.
Also visit The Hartford’s website to download or order our guidebook, Fire Sense: A Smart Way to Prevent, Detect and Escape Home Fires.