So often we see stories of destructive and deadly house fires on the news and think, "It won't happen to us."
But in 2014 alone, U.S. fire departments responded to approximately 367,500 fires in residential homes.
These disasters happen all too frequently — even when we practice basic fire prevention.
House fires are not only common; they're devastating. Consider these statistics:
Fires that start in the home can spread rapidly, overwhelming your house with flames and thick, toxic smoke in just 2 minutes. This leaves you and your family very little time to escape to safety after the fire alarm and smoke detector go off.
Even if your house is small and you know the layout well, the dense smoke can quickly cause a sense of disorientation.
What's more, smoke quickly consumes oxygen in the air, making it hard to breathe and potentially causing loss of consciousness before you can reach an exit safely. So, let’s talk about how to survive a fire.
For these reasons, it's critical to have a fire escape plan in place before disaster strikes.
That’s where this post comes in.
I have created this simple and straightforward guide to help you develop a fire safety plan for your home in just a few minutes that allows you to act fast should the unexpected occur and get your family out alive.
Let’s get started.
Using a blank sheet of paper or, better yet, grid paper provided by the National Fire Protection Associate, draw a basic map of each floor in your house.
Include all of the rooms in your home as well as all windows and doors.
The grid you draw will serve as the foundation for the rest of your planning and helps when reviewing the plan with your family, so do your best to draw it to scale, so it is as clear and accurate as possible. It would also be helpful to have a fire safety checklist and apartment fire escape. These planned resources will ensure you have an idea of how to react before an emergency takes place and can save you valuable reaction time.
Use your map to determine all possible exits and escape routes in the event of a fire.
Mark two potential exits for every room in the house. The most viable escape paths will likely be common entrances to your home, such as the front door or a patio slider, depending on where everyone is at the time the fire breaks out.
Windows can also be used as an escape route, but should only be a last resort.
Once you’ve identified and drawn out all of your alternative escape route options, be sure to examine each of them carefully for potential obstacles such as sticky or stubborn windows, security bars, and heavy pieces of furniture. These things can hinder your ability to get out in a real emergency.
his outside meeting place (e.g., the mailbox, a stone wall, or a light pole) helps ensure that all household members can quickly and easily find each other once they've escaped from the house.
The chosen safe meeting place should be a safe distance from the house, but close enough for everyone to reach quickly.
In the event of an actual fire, this is where all of your household members will be accounted for, and you should call the fire department.
This is critical. When tensions are high in an emergency, your family, particularly children, needs to be prepared to act on the instincts and the systems you’ve designed for them to get out alive to give them the best chance of survival.
Make sure all of your children understand the primary escape routes and any backup routes in case primary routes are blocked.
Also, explain to young kids that they should never, under any circumstances, hide under the bed or in a closet during a fire. This can make them difficult to find.
Assign all adults (and older, responsible children) in the home-specific duties in the event of a house fire.
For example, one adult can be responsible for ensuring the children and/or any elderly residents are safe. At the same time, another may be assigned to gather family pets that are close by.
If everyone knows the role they play in your family making a safe escape during a fire, the chances of everyone getting out alive increases dramatically.
Image: Streator Fire Department
Don't wait until an actual fire to measure the effectiveness of your home escape plan.
Practice your fire drill and escape plan ahead of time with every member of the household, and do it regularly (at least every six months).
Make sure you and your family can escape your home in 2 minutes or less (yes, use a timer to check!) and that all primary and secondary routes will work when a fire occurs.
This will help ensure that everything goes smoothly in a real-life scenario, and you and your family have the best chance for survival.
I know it seems simple and unlikely you’ll ever need to escape your burning home, but those who practice dramatically increase the likelihood they make it out alive.
Plus, it’s not like this is some big chore…
Do your family a favor and spend a few minutes putting together your evacuation plan, review it with your family, and take a few minutes to practice. That quickly, you’ve dramatically improved your chances for survival in one of the most common survival situations you might face.
If you have any questions on creating your family’s home fire escape plan or experiences you can share from creating your plan with your family, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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