March 16th, 2015
House fires can cost a fortune in damages and put your family at risk for injury. According to the U.S. Fire Association, in 2011, residential buildings were the second most common place for fires to happen. Having the proper home insurance coverage can help repay for items lost in the fire, but nothing can replace a family member's life. Follow this guide for building a fire escape plan with the members of your household.
Have a plan
Discussing a strategy for escaping a house fire will help your family maneuver through the panic of a real-life emergency. Evaluate all of the available exits such as doors and windows to determine the safest and quickest way for each family member to escape. Make sure those areas are clear from obstructions. Even something as simple as a laundry basket blocking a pathway could take away precious seconds from your family's escape. When traveling through the home during a fire, be sure to crawl low to the ground to avoiding the rising smoke.
In the case that someone living in the house - such as a senior or infant - has mobility issues, designate someone to be responsible for getting that person out of the house safely. A back-up assistant should also be assigned. Additionally, shutting doors on the way out is a helpful method to slow down the spread of the fire. This practice will might help minimize the damage to your home while also giving your family crucial extra time to escape.
The goal of a fire-escape plan is to get everyone in the household outside to safety. The Red Cross suggests that families have at least two ways to escape from each room. For homes with multiple levels, consider storing an escape ladder by the window in each of the sleeping areas above the first floor. Determine a specific meeting place, like a lamp post or a specific neighbor's driveway, that puts your family well out of harm's way once you've exited the home. Having everyone together at a centralized location provides a sure way to know if someone is still inside the house, and you can then let the fire department know. Remember, everyone is responsible for getting just themselves out of the home except for the assistant designated for those with mobility issues. Going back into the home or waiting for other family members could be the difference between a life or death situation. Wait until you reach safety to dial 911 by using a cellphone outside or phone for help from a neighbor's house. Never call the fire department while you're still inside the home.
What happens when you can't leave the house? Sometimes, the smoke or fire prohibits you from safely exiting. In this situation, block yourself in the room by sealing off all areas between you and the fire. This includes closing doors, covering air vents and stuffing towels into the cracks underneath the doors. It is okay to call 911 from inside the house at this point. If there is no phone available, wave something like a bed sheet outside the window to attract fire fighters' attention.
A plan is only effective if everyone in the house fully understands it. The National Fire Protection Association offers a helpful grid to visually draw out your escape plan.This method is especially helpful for families with young children. Also, teach children that it's not safe to open a door that is warm to the touch.
Fire alarms need to be installed on every level of the home and should be programmed so that if one sounds, they all go off. Smoke alarms only have a lifespan of about 10 years according to the USFA, so be sure to replace them as necessary.
The fire might not be visible to someone outside of the house, so firefighters need an additional way to spot the house with the emergency. House numbers should be clearly displayed on front of the home or painted on the curb by the driveway. Hopefully your family will be out of the house by this time and can act as another signal to the fire department.
The NFPA suggests practicing this plan at least twice a year and educating visitors on your safety strategy. The quicker your family exits the home, the sooner you can call for help. Not only will this decrease the risk of injury, but it can also minimize the damage to your home.
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