By Gordon Williams
Fire Prevention Week this year runs from October 6 through October 12. That is the time each year set aside by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to get us thinking about the dangers of fires in the home. The U.S. averages 350,000 home fires a year, and those fires kill 2,500 people and injure 12,000 more.
The NFPA is a non-profit organization, dating back to 1896, that seeks to reduce death and injuries from fires. By the way, the early October date for Fire Prevention Week wasn’t just picked out of the blue. The Great Chicago Fire burned from October 8 to October 10, 1871.
There are lots of useful tips in the educational material the NFPA has developed for Fire Prevention Week.
- First, have a home fire escape plan and make sure every family member practices it until it becomes second nature.
- Second, make sure everyone knows how to escape from a burning building. Fires double in size every 30 seconds; you may have as little as two minutes to get everyone safely out of the dwelling.
This article deals with making your home fire escape plan. A second article, which will appear soon, will explain in more detail how to escape a home that is on fire.
Your home fire plan begins with having working smoke alarms in all the right places. You want an alarm in every sleeping room and outside each sleeping area — with at least one alarm on every level of the house, including the basement. Make sure that the alarms are loud enough to awaken everyone in the home; designate someone to awaken anyone who might sleep through the alarm.
Next, create an escape plan meant to get everyone out safely in a fire. “Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes,” says the NFPA literature. “Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, using windows and doors.”
Walk through your plan periodically to make sure that all escape routes are clear and that all windows and doors open easily. You would need to be able to remove screens and security bars quickly during a fire.
Consider the special needs of anyone in the home; designate a family member to assist anyone elderly or disabled in escaping a fire. Pick a backup just in case the designated rescuer is not home when fire breaks out. Does anyone in the family need special gear — eyeglasses, a hearing aid, or a walker? Make sure the user can grab it quickly if necessary,
If it is a two-story house and your escape routes involve windows, how would people make it down to ground level? Consider installing escape ladders where they would be needed to escape a fire. Practice so everyone knows how to deploy the ladders.
Pick an outside meeting place where everyone can assemble after they escape the fire. It could be a neighbor’s house or a mailbox or a street light, just make sure everyone knows where the meeting point is. Is your house number clearly visible from the street, so the fire engines know where to go?
Make sure everyone in the family knows how to call the fire department and report the emergency once they are out of the house. The fire dispatcher will want to know the address, the nature of the emergency, and whether anyone needs emergency rescue.
Having a home fire escape plan is a good first step. It won’t do you much good, though, if you don’t practice it until everyone in the family knows just what to do in a fire, “Practice your home fire escape plan twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible,” says the NFPA material. The NFPA further suggests that you “Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.”
Run at least one drill a year at night. Make sure the alarms do awaken everyone and that you identify anyone who will need special help during a fire. Make sure the children have practiced the drill in daylight before you try a nighttime drill. Let them know ahead of time there will be a drill that night. “The object is to practice, not to frighten,” says the NFPA. “Telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.”