We often talk about how to keep teens and adolescents safe while they’re amongst their peers, but we don’t often mention the obvious: keeping them safe at home. Last year, there were almost 500,000 structure fires in the U.S. according to the National Fire Protection Association, resulting in the loss of more than 2,500 lives. While not every fire is preventable or escapable, the chances of surviving a fire in your home are significantly increased when you take the proper precautions ahead of time. This week (October 7-14) is National Fire Prevention Awareness week and we here at Doorways urge all families to learn about fire safety, develop a fire escape plan, and practice putting that plan into action. Taking a few minutes as a family to create and implement a plan for fire safety could just save a life.
From the moment the smoke detector or other alert sounds, you have barely two minutes to escape a burning building. Even if the fire is in a different part of the building, the smoke can quickly overwhelm you, making it difficult to escape. The key is being alerted in time. This is why the first step in improving the safety of your family is to ensure you have an adequate number of fully operational smoke detectors in your home. You need only look at the statistics to understand just how important smoke detectors are for survival. Almost two-thirds of all fire fatalities in the home occurred in homes without working smoke detectors.
The National Fire Prevention Association indicates that adequate smoke detector coverage entails having one smoke detector in each room where someone sleeps, one outside each sleeping area, and one on each floor of the home.
Once you are confident that all members of the family will be alerted to the presence of a fire, no matter where they are in the home, the next fire safety step in your plan is to know what each of you will do if there is a fire. This is as important as having smoke detectors. Surveys found that only 8% of people, when asked, indicated that their first response upon hearing the smoke detector go off at home would be to get out. When seconds count, hesitating, being indecisive, or doing the wrong thing can be the difference between life and death.
A good fire escape plan identifies two ways out from every room in the house. Identifying all possible exits is the first step in creating your escape plan. Walk through the house as a family and talk about all possible escape routes and exits. Don’t limit your plan to how each person will escape if they are in their bedroom; a good plan ensures all family members know two ways to get out of every room.
You also need to identify an outside meeting place where everyone will go after escaping the home. This accomplishes two things for fire safety. First, a plan ensures everyone goes far enough away from the house to be safe. Second, it ensures you will know who is out and who is not, information that will be critical for the firefighters and rescue workers to know right away.
Lastly, you need to practice your fire safety plan. Have each person start in different rooms and practice escaping according to the plan. Remember, in a real fire, there will be thick smoke and the safest place will be close to the ground. Include maneuvering like this in your escape plan in order to identify if anything is blocking your escape and to familiarize your family with escaping from this vantage point.
Prevention and practice are your best defense against home fire danger. Take time this week to make sure your family knows what to do when the alarm sounds.