How quickly can you evacuate if there is a fire? Does everyone know where to go or what to do? What do you take or leave? How many exits are there? These are all questions that public organizations—from offices to hotels to factories—must plan for, and they are critical questions for the home as well.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports that although there has been a 0.3% decrease in the number of residential fires in the U.S. from 2010–2019, deaths have increased by 14% and injuries by 16%. Taking steps to prevent and prepare for the possibility of a home fire can be vital to keeping yourself and the members of your household safe. Here are ten steps you can take to improve your fire safety at home.
1. Install smoke alarms and test monthly. Replace smoke alarm batteries when they go out and never disconnect a smoke alarm to stop it from beeping.
2. Keep your fire extinguishers accessible and up to date because they can stop functioning once past their expiration date.
3. Teach your household members how to use a fire extinguisher. Remember the handy acronym PASS: Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep the extinguisher from side to side, aiming at the base of the fire.
Cooking fires are the leading cause of residential fires, so make sure you have a fire extinguisher easily accessible in the kitchen. Also, educate yourself on the different types of fires that are likely to occur in a kitchen, such as grease fires or electrical fires. Make sure you and the members of your household know how to safely extinguish each type of fire.
The second most common cause of residential fires is heating. When the weather first turns cold each year, monitor your furnace, space heaters, or other heating appliances. Make sure you are home and awake when you use heating the first time and test your appliances for a few hours to make sure there are no problems.
Making a home fire safety plan will help you react faster and keep you and your household safe in the event of a fire.
An effective fire escape plan is a key component of your overall fire safety plan. Your fire escape plan should enable you to exit the house within 2 minutes, but preferably under 60 seconds. Identify which windows, doors, and routes you would use in the event of a fire and where you would go once outside. Communicate your plan to all members of your household and practice the evacuation drill at least twice a year.
Consider creating a buddy system for any children in the household, especially if they share a bedroom, have bedrooms in the same part of the house, or have bedrooms on the opposite end of the house from the adults. Make sure all members of the household know what to do or whom to wake up in the event of a fire.
4. Create and practice your two-minute evacuation plan with all members of your household at least twice a year.
5. Store important items, especially legal documents, in a fire-proof safe.
6. Create a go bag with everything you would need in an emergency. Only pack items that are needed for identification or hard to replace on short notice (ex. ID and prescription medications). Make sure your go bag is ready at all times and identify what items you would need to grab that may not be in your go bag. Go bags may not always be practical in a home fire situation, but they can be especially valuable if you live in a place where wildfires are common and where you might need to evacuate unexpectedly.
7. Take a video of your house and household items and update annually for insurance purposes. Referring to this will help you create a list of what items you have lost if there is a fire and can help you accurately fill out any insurance claims.
8. If a fire happens, stay low to the ground. Smoke rises, so there will be less smoke around you the closer you are to the ground.
9. Close any doors not necessary for escape in order to slow the spread of the fire and smoke.
10. Before opening a door along your exit route, feel it with your hand. If it is hot, do not open the door and use another escape route if available.
With these ten steps, you can better prevent, plan for, and stay safe in the event of a home fire. Check out the following resources to learn more about fire safety data and suggestions.