In 2012, there were an estimated 365,000 reported home structure fires and 2,380 associated civilian deaths in the United States. Most residential fires occur between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Deaths from residential fires occur in greater numbers between midnight and 4 a.m. when most people are asleep.
Fire can spread rapidly through your home, leaving you as little as two minutes to escape safely once the alarm sounds. Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way. A home escape plan must be created and practiced so that each person knows exactly what to do. It also is important to practice Exit Drills In The Home (EDITH).
Each family member must know what to do in the event of a fire in their home. Unless a small fire can be easily controlled, it is recommended that fighting the fire be left to professional firefighters and that family members escape safely from the home.
Regardless of the cause of the fire, a home may be filled with smoke. This is a very dangerous situation. Family members may be unable to see very well. The smoke and toxic gases may cause dizziness and disorientation. In the confusion, one can easily become lost or trapped in the home. Family members must understand that their safety depends upon quickly leaving the home. It has been proven that exit drills reduce chances of panic and injury in fires and that trained and informed people have a much better chance to survive fires in their home.
The first step in escaping a fire in the home is to plan ahead. By installing smoke detectors in the home and being sure they are in good working order, family members can be alerted to the presence of smoke or fire before it is too late. Together, family members can decide on an escape plan in the event of a fire in the home.
Bedroom doors should be closed while people are sleeping. It takes fire 10 to 15 minutes to burn through a wooden door. That's 10 to 15 minutes more for the inhabitant to escape. Next, family members should visit each bedroom and figure out two escape routes – your normal exit and a secondary exit through a door or a window
Realize the Danger of Smoke
Each member of the family should understand the importance of crawling low under smoke. Smoke and heat rise so the best place to find fresher, cooler air is near the floor. When a person is caught in a building filled with smoke, they should drop on hands and knees and crawl to the nearest exit. Test all closed doors before opening them. Feel the back of the door. If it is hot, don't open it. Turn and go to the second route of exit. If the door is not hot, open slowly but be prepared to slam it closed again if there are flames.
Practice what to do if you become trapped. Since doors hold back smoke and firefighters are adept at rescue, the chances of survival are excellent. Close doors between you and the smoke. Stuff the cracks and cover vents to keep smoke out. If there's a phone, call in your exact location to the fire department even if they are on the scene. Wait at the window and signal with a sheet or flashlight or something visible.
Plan an Escape
- Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.
- Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.
- Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan. Don’t pick somewhere too far from the house or in the back yard where the fire department can’t find you when they arrive.
- Go outside to see if your street number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.
- Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.
- If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.
- If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Emergency release devices won't compromise your security - but they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.
- Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family's fire escape plan. When staying overnight at other people's homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don't have a plan in place, offer to help them make one. This is especially important when children are permitted to attend "sleepovers" at friends' homes.
- Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.
Plan an Escape Route
One very good step in the planning of a home fire escape plan is to make a floor diagram of the house. Mark the regular and emergency escape routes, as well as windows, doors, stairs, halls.
A good way to practice the effectiveness of a home fire escape plan is to position each family member in his or her bed, turn all the lights off, and activate the smoke detector by depressing the test switch. Each family member should help "awaken" the others by yelling the alert. Family members should exit their rooms according to the plan, crawl low under smoke, practice feeling doors for heat, and meet in the designated location outside the home.
Not all "homes" are single residential structures but include apartments and other types of buildings. Some additional discussion may be helpful in the home escape plan.
Most high-rise or multi-story apartment complexes post fire escape plans for all residents to see and follow. However, these plans seldom include escape routes for each apartment. Family members must develop and practice an evacuation plan for their individual apartment.
Clear Your Escape Routes
Items that block doors and windows in your home could keep you from escaping in the event of a home fire. And that could mean the difference between life and death. So unblock your exits today!
Key to your family’s safety is planning and practicing a home fire escape plan twice a year. Start by identifying two escape routes out of each room, if possible, then make sure that each of those escape routes can be used safely by everyone.
Practice Your Fire Escape Plan
- Practice your home fire escape plan twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.
- Make arrangements in your plan for anyone in your home who has a disability.
- Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.
- It's important to determine during the drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation.
- If your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. Escape ladders can be placed in or near windows to provide an additional escape route. Review the manufacturer's instructions carefully so you'll be able to use a safety ladder in an emergency. Practice setting up the ladder from a first floor window to make sure you can do it correctly and quickly. Children should only practice with a grown-up, and only from a first-story window. Store the ladder near the window, in an easily accessible location. You don't want to have to search for it during a fire.
- Always choose the escape route that is safest – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to your exit.
- Closing doors on your way out slows the spread of fire, giving you more time to safely escape.
- In some cases, smoke or fire may prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice "sealing yourself in for safety" as part of your home fire escape plan. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and bottom so fresh air can get in. Call the fire department to report your exact location. Wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.
Special provisions may be required for infants, young children, disabled or the elderly who may need additional help when escaping. These provisions should be included in the home fire escape plan and discussed with family members.
When afraid, children commonly seek sheltered places such as a closet or under the bed. Encourage them to exit outside. Do not allow them to hide. Make sure children can operate the windows, descend a ladder, or lower themselves to the ground through a window. (Slide out on the stomach, feet first. Hang on with both hands. Bend the knees when landing.) Lower children to the ground before you exit from the window. They may panic and not follow if an adult goes first. Have children practice saying the fire department number, the family name, and street address into the phone.
Exit Safely from a Structure
Jumping from upper floors of a building should be avoided. However, it is possible to hang from a second story window and drop feet first to the ground without significant injury. A sprained ankle or broken leg is better than dying. Parents can purchase fire ladders for the bedrooms, or instruct children to use an adjacent porch or garage roof to await rescue by the fire department.
When exiting such a structure, do not use the elevator. Elevators are notorious for stopping at the fire floor and killing the people inside. A power failure may cause them to stop in between floors. Use the fire escape or an enclosed fire resistive stairwell to exit.
As a family, explore the building so that every exit is familiar, including those from storage, laundry and recreation rooms. If the hallways become smoke-filled as the result of a fire, memory can help in finding the exits. Look for these important features in the building - enclosed exit stairways, clearly-marked exits, clean hallways and lobbies, automatic sprinklers, fire alarm systems and smoke detectors.(Information provided in part courtesy of NFPA and the City of Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department© 2013)