To make your household fire escape plan, you
• Draw a floor plan of your home; mark two fire escape routes from each room—the primary route and the secondary route. In thick, heavy, dark smoke it is easy to become disoriented. Physically walking through your plan and identifying two escape routes greatly helps everyone understand the best ways to get out safely during a frightening emergency. Be sure the window exits you plan to use can be opened.
• Consider getting escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second or third floor. Learn how to use them, and store them near the windows. If the primary escape routes via stairs are blocked by smoke or fire, the windows may be your only alternative. Escape ladders permit quick exits, reducing time spent in smoke-filled, toxic environments while waiting for firefighters.
• Use quick-release devices on barred windows and doors. Security bars without release devices can trap you in a deadly fire. If you have security bars on your windows, be sure one window in each sleeping room has a release device. If smoke or fire is blocking the primary exit, you must be able to use your secondary routes quickly. Fire deaths have occurred when people were trapped by security bars and were unable to get out and firefighters were unable to get in.
• Select a safe outside meeting place for everyone to meet after escaping from a fire. Make sure it will be a safe distance from heat, smoke, and flames. Family members may use different escape routes, exiting on different sides of the home. Gathering in a specific meeting place in front of the home will quickly let you know who is out, and allow you to advise firefighters of who may need help and their probable location inside. (See “Family Disaster Plan.”)
• Learn the emergency number for reporting a fire. After leaving your home, you will need to call this number from an outside phone or from a neighbor's home.
• Make sure your house number is easily readable from the street, even at night.
• Make sure that street signs in your neighborhood are clear and easy to find.
• Get out as quickly as possible. If there is smoke on your way out, use your second way out. If you must go through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.
• Practice feeling the doorknob and the space around the door. If it is hot, use your second way out.
• Close doors after leaving.
• Go to the specified meeting place.
Be sure that
everyone in your household knows:
• To get out first, and then call for help from outside the burning building, away from toxic smoke and gases. If a portable phone is handy during your escape, you may take it with you, but do not waste precious time looking for one. Use your neighbor’s phone, a cell phone, or nearby pay phone to call for help.
• The two escape routes from each room.
• The location of the outside meeting place.
• If you cannot get out, stay in a room with the door closed, seal around doors and vents, and open the window for ventilation and to signal to firefighters.
Be sure to emphasize “once out, stay out.” Only professional firefighters should enter a building that is on fire—even if the residents’ pets or prized possessions are inside.
Get first aid
training from your local American Red Cross chapter.
• Conduct a fire-hazard hunt in and around your home. Many things around the home can be fire hazards. Taking time to look for and eliminate hazards greatly reduces your risk. In your hazard hunt, include your barns, outbuildings, or any other structures that house animals. Invite your local fire department to examine your barns and outbuildings and give you suggestions.
• If you smoke, choose fire–safe cigarettes. They are less likely to cause fires. Encourage smokers to smoke outside.
• Avoid smoking in bed, or when drowsy or medicated. Bed linens are highly combustible. It is easier to be burned, and highly likely individuals will suffer severe burns, when fires start in beds. Drowsy or medicated people may forget lit materials, resulting in fire. Never allow smoking in a home where oxygen is in use.
• Provide smokers with deep, sturdy ashtrays. Douse cigarette and cigar butts with water before disposal. Smoking materials are the leading cause of residential fire deaths in the United States.
• Keep matches and lighters up high, away from children, preferably in a locked cabinet. Children are fascinated by fire and may play with matches and lighters if they are not kept out of reach.
• Make sure your home heating sources are clean and in working order. Many home fires are started by poorly maintained furnaces or stoves, cracked or rusted furnace parts, or chimneys with creosote buildup.
• Be sure all portable and fixed space heaters have been certified by an independent testing laboratory. Keep blankets, clothing, curtains, furniture, and anything that could get hot and catch fire at least three feet away from all heat sources. Plug heaters directly into the wall socket rather than using an extension cord and unplug them when they are not in use or occupants go to bed.
• Use kerosene heaters only if permitted by law in your area. Refuel kerosene heaters only outdoors and after they have cooled. Kerosene has a low flash point. If mistakenly dripped on hot surfaces, it can cause fires. Do not substitute gasoline for kerosene in the heater.
• Have chimneys and wood stoves inspected annually and cleaned if necessary. Chimneys and wood stoves build up creosote, which is the residue left behind by burning wood. Creosote is flammable and needs to be professionally removed periodically. Store ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.
• Keep the stove area clean and clear of combustibles, such as towels, clothing, curtains, bags, boxes, and other appliances. Combustible materials near stoves may catch fire quickly when your attention is elsewhere.
• Wear short or restrained sleeves when cooking. Loose sleeves can catch fire quickly if dragged across a hot burner.
• If you are cooking and a fire starts in a pan, slide a lid over the burning pan and turn off the burner. Leave the lid in place until the pan is completely cool. Using a lid to contain and smother the fire is your safest action. Getting the fire extinguisher or baking soda to extinguish the fire delays action. Flour and other cooking products can react explosively to flame and should never be sprinkled over fire. Moving the pan can cause serious injury or spread the fire. Never pour water on grease fires.
• If you try to use a fire extinguisher on a fire and the fire does not immediately die down, drop the extinguisher and get out. Most portable extinguishers empty in as little as 8 to 10 seconds.
• Use only flashlights when the power is out, not candles.
• Never leave a burning candle unattended, even for a minute.
• Check electrical wiring in your home. Fix or replace frayed extension cords, exposed wires, or loose plugs.
• Make sure wiring is not under rugs, attached by nails, or in high traffic areas.
• Make sure electrical outlets have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
• Avoid overloading outlets or extension cords.
• Purchase only appliances and electrical devices that bear the label of an independent testing laboratory.
• Buy only heaters certified for safety by an independent testing laboratory and follow the manufacturer's directions. Heaters that have gone through rigorous testing and are approved for use in the home are less likely to cause fire. • Store combustible materials in open areas away from heat so urces.
• Place rags used to apply flammable household chemicals in metal containers with tight-fitting lids.
• Install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each separate sleeping area.
• Yell "Fire!" several times and go outside right away. Smoke alarms go off because there is enough smoke and toxic gas to cause harm. Yell to let people know the emergency is real, and they should get out. If you live in a building with elevators, use the stairs. Never try to hide from fire. Leave all your things where they are and save yourself.
• If your escape route is filled with smoke, use your second way out. It is very hard to find your way through thick, heavy smoke. Using your second way out will provide a safer alternative.
• If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit. Fires produce many poisonous gases. Some are heavy and will sink low to the floor; others will rise, carrying soot toward the ceiling. Close doors behind you. • If you are escaping through a closed door, feel the doorknob and the space around the door before opening the door. If it is cool and there is no smoke at the bottom or top, open the door slowly. If you see smoke or fire in your exit path, close the door and use your second way out. If the doorknob or the space around the door is hot, use your second way out. It is a natural tendency to automatically use the door, but fire may be right outside. Feeling the doorknob and the space around the door will warn you of possible danger.
• If smoke, heat, or flames block your exit routes and you cannot get outside safely, stay in the room with the door closed. Open the window a few inches at the top and bottom for ventilation, turn on a light, and hang a light-colored object outside the window to alert firefighters to your presence. Hang anything white or light-colored you can find—the bigger the better—for example, a sheet, shirt, jacket, window shade or blind, or poster with the white back facing out. If there is a phone in the room, call the fire department and tell where you are. Seal around doors and vents with duct tape, towels, or sheets to help slow the entry of deadly smoke into the room. Wait by the window for help. The first thing firefighters will do when they arrive at a fire is check for trapped persons. Hanging a sheet out lets them know where to find you.
• Get out as safely and quickly as you can. The less time you are exposed to poisonous gases, heat, or flames, the safer you will be.
• Once you are outside, go to your meeting place and then send one person to call the fire department. Everyone in the household should know where the outside meeting place is and should go directly to this meeting place in case of a fire and stay there. Gathering in a specific outside location in front of the home will quickly let you know who is outside, and allow you to advise firefighters of who may need help and their probable location inside.
• Once you are out, stay out. Children as well as adults are often concerned about the safety of their pets, so discuss and plan for this before a fire starts. The safest option is for pets to sleep in the room of a family member. If escape is needed, grab your pet on the way out, but only if you can do this without delaying and endangering yourself or family members. Many people are overcome by smoke and poisonous gases while trying to rescue others, pets, or possessions. No one should go into a burning or smoking building except a trained firefighter who has the proper breathing apparatus and protective clothing.
• Stop what you are doing.
• Drop to the ground and cover your face if you can.
• Roll over and over or back and forth until the flames go out. Running will only make the fire burn faster. Practicing can help you respond properly and more quickly in an actual emergency situation.
• Once the flames are out, cool the burned skin with water for three to five minutes. Call for medical attention.
• Do a series on how to recognize potential fire hazards in the home and workplace.
• Do a story featuring interviews with local fire officials about how to make homes fire-safe.
• Provide tips on conducting fire drills in the home, mentioning the need for multiple escape routes and a meeting place outside the home.
• Highlight the importance of home smoke alarms by running monthly "test your smoke alarm” reminders.
• Run public service ads about fire safety.
• Work with officials of the local fire, police, and emergency medical services departments; utilities; hospitals; emergency management office; and American Red Cross chapter to prepare and disseminate guidelines for people with mobility impairments about what to do if they have to evacuate.
It’s easy—anyone can use a fire