Fire Safety for Families

boy dressed up as a fireman

Did you know that October 6 through 12 is Fire Prevention Week? Since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed during the week of October 9 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which caused devastating damage to the city of Chicago in 1871. This year’s theme is “Not All Heroes Wear Capes: Plan and Practice Your Escape.” 

While many fires are preventable, accidents happen, and it’s important to be prepared with fire safety information. You may only have a few minutes to make it to safety when a fire breaks out in your home. Having a plan and making sure that everyone in the family knows their role helps you to make the most of the time you have. If you don’t have a family fire plan yet, read on to learn basic fire safety facts. If you already do have a plan, stick around – you might learn something new!

Your Family Fire Plan

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are four crucial elements to a fire escape plan.

  • Plan your escape route: Draw a map of your home, including windows and doors, and identify two ways out of each room. Make sure your windows and doors open easily – struggling to open them in an emergency will cost your family time. This printout out from the Red Cross includes a grid for drawing your map, as well as helpful tips in both English and Spanish.
  • Test your smoke alarms: The NFPA and Red Cross both recommend testing your smoke alarms once a month and replacing the batteries once a year. If your alarms are over ten years old, it’s time to get new ones. Smoke alarms are loud for a good reason, but they may frighten children who haven’t heard the noise before. Make sure your kids know not only what your smoke alarms sound like, but what to do when they hear them.
  • Choose an outside meeting place: Pick a spot that is outside your home, and preferably a safe distance away from any debris that may fall during a fire. While you may not be able to escape with your cell phone in hand, it’s useful to have a family emergency communications plan just in case you aren’t able to find one another. These tips on creating an emergency communications plan from FEMA are useful not only for fires, but other emergencies and disasters your family may experience.
  • Make a regular reminder: Keep the escape plan and your family emergency communications plan in a place where they are easily accessible, like on the refrigerator. Quiz family members on important phone numbers they may need to dial in an emergency by having them repeat them from memory, and make sure that everyone understands that they need to get outside to safety before calling them.
  • Practice your escape plan: Emergencies are high stress situations, and you may find it hard to think clearly during one. Fire and safety training can help your family make the most of the time you have to escape. Make sure your family knows the plan like the back of their hand by practicing your escape twice per year. In a real fire, you may have as few as two minutes to get out, so make sure that a two-minute fire drill is part of your practice. It might not be the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but it may just save your life.

For Family Members With Disabilities

Keeping family members with disabilities or mobility issues requires a little extra planning. In addition to installing smoke alarms in each bedroom, the NFPA recommends installing fire sprinklers if you’re able. Sprinklers will buy you more time to escape, which is essential in helping family members with disabilities or mobility issues to safety. If a member of your family is deaf or hard of hearing, make sure that your smoke alarms are equipped with strobe lights. You may also wish to install a pillow or bed shaker alarm that will wake them up so they can escape.

Apartment Fire Safety

Many larger or newer apartment buildings are built with sprinklers and alarm systems that will keep you safe from fire, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still need a plan! When you move in, check with your landlord or building manager to learn more about the building’s fire safety features and escape routes. If you are moving into a high-rise building, make sure it is equipped with sprinklers. Find all of the exit stairs on your floor, as the one nearest to you might be blocked by smoke or fire. Treat every alarm as an emergency and leave your building right away if you hear one. Do not reenter the building until you’re told it’s safe to do so.

A Word on Fire Extinguishers

It might seem smart to have a fire extinguisher on hand, but they should be used with caution. Fire extinguishers can cause injury to both the user and any people around them. Only use a fire extinguisher if the fire is confined to a small area, everyone has left the building, the fire department has already been called and – most importantly – you have been trained by the fire department. Otherwise, your best and safest bet is to leave the building and go outdoors to safety. 

Although we hope you’ll never have to use your fire plan, having one will help you and your family stay safe in the face of a very frightening emergency. By making the plan, practicing it often, and keeping your home fire safe by testing your smoke alarms regularly, you may just save the most precious thing you have: your family.

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