Have you ever stopped to think about watching your house go up in flames, and your whole life disintegrate into ash and soot? If you answered no, there's a reason for that: It's too horrifying for words. For many of us, our home is an extension of ourselves. It's a place where memories are made, a refuge from the craziness of the outside world and a sanctuary for the things and people we love. How could we ever imagine watching it go up in flames?
Statistically, it's unlikely that you'll ever be faced with having to evacuate a fire in your home. But the problem is you really never know if you will become one of the statistics. You could continue your habit of doing all of the things that you should do to ensure you run a safe household, but despite all of your fire safety procedures, lightning could strike your roof, igniting a fire. Or a faulty wire could spark and ignite some insulation in your attic.
Unfortunately, whether or not a fire could start in your house is never completely within your control. But the plan you have in place to respond to an emergency like this is something that you can. Read on for important tips on developing a fire safety plan for your family and home.
Fire Safety Tips for the Home
We all know how important it is to be prepared if a fire were to ever occur in the home. But we also know that prevention is always preferable, so it's time to take stock of your family's awareness and practices of fire safety in the house. Some of the common sense stuff that is easy to get lazy about includes:
- Keep matches and lighters in locked cabinets, away from small children.
- Only allow candles to be lit when an adult is in the room, and make sure your candleholders are made of materials that aren't flammable, like glass or metal.
- Have chimneys, fireplaces and wood stoves inspected once a year and cleaned as necessary.
- Keep space heaters away from curtains and other flammable items, and make sure they're turned off (and unplugged when possible) when you leave the house or go to bed.
- If you have to keep a gas can at your house, try to store it in an outdoor shed, away from the main building of your home.
- If you have windows or doors with security bars, make sure they have a quick release option and that everyone in the family knows how to open them.
- Keep dish towels away from an open flame and never leave the stove or oven unattended.
- Have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them every month and change the batteries at least once a year. If you're hooked up to a security system, test that it pages the fire department when the alarm goes off. You can work with your security company to make this happen.
- Ensure that all of your light bulbs are the correct wattage for your lamps and fixtures. If they're too high, they can easily catch fire.
- Keep a fire extinguisher on hand for small fires.
Fire Extinguisher Safety Tips
When purchasing a fire extinguisher for your home, there are a couple important things you need to know. Fire extinguishers are rated for different types of fires. Class A is for regular materials like wood, cardboard and cloth, Class B works on flammable liquids, such as gas, oil and grease, and Class C is for electrical equipment, like wires and fuse boxes.
If you have a Class B or a C extinguisher, you can use them on type-A fires. But it's bad news to use water or a Class A extinguisher on grease or electrical fires. So, your best bet is to look for an extinguisher that is rated A-B-C. That way, you'll be covered for any type of emergency.
Home fire extinguishers are also rated for the size of fire they can deal with; larger numbers can handle bigger fires. This is important information because most portable fire extinguishers completely discharge in around 8 seconds, so you're not going to want to tackle a raging inferno with a small, lightweight extinguisher.
Your fire extinguisher should be installed in plain view and you should always perform the maintenance suggested by the manufacturer. In the unfortunate case that you'll have to use your fire extinguisher, you should start by standing at least 6 to 8 feet away and remember the PASS procedure:
- Pull the pin out.
- Aim low. You'll want to point the nozzle at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever below the handle.
- Sweep from side to side while carefully moving toward the fire.
Do this until the flames are out and then watch the fire area for a while. If the fire re-ignites then repeat the process. Most importantly, if you can't get the fire out then you need to evacuate the premises immediately and call the fire department.
Fire Safety Escape Plan
The first step in creating a fire safety escape plan for your home is to draw a floor plan for each level of your home, marking all possible emergency exits from each room via doors and windows. The door is always the ideal exit, but if it's blocked by fire then there needs to be an alternative, like a window. This means that windows need to be able to open easily from the inside, so as we mentioned previously, any security bars need a quick release latch that everyone in the home knows how to operate. If your exterior doors are deadbolt locked, then make sure there is a key in easy reaching distance to the door, so you don't have to waste time trying to get to your keys.
Be sure to include stairways, and details like a garage roof or porch that could aid in a quick escape. If you have a second story, it's not a bad idea to have portable fire escape ladders standing by that can be attached to a window and used to evacuate in an emergency. If you have young children, people with disabilities or elderly relatives living with you, they're probably going to need some assistance getting out, so you'll need to decide who is responsible for helping them. And don't forget to include your pets in the plan, as well. Have visible signage on your home of how many pets you have, so the fire department is aware or let them know when you call them that there are pets in the house.
In the case of a fire emergency, it's likely you'll have mere minutes to get everyone out safely, so taking a few minutes to plan these details in advance could literally be a matter of life or death. You'll also want to pick a meeting place outside of your house, so you can account for everyone and make sure they're safe.
Once you have all the details decided, you'll need to practice the plan to make sure you can execute it quickly. It's recommended to hold fire drills at least twice a year to make sure that everyone knows what to do without hesitation. This is a great time to discuss details of the real thing. For example, remind everyone not to open doors if the knobs are hot and crawl low and keep your mouth covered if there's smoke in the air. Also, everyone should be warned to not waste time trying to grab any property on the way out. Stuff can be replaced, but your family cannot.
- "Develop a home fire escape plan today...It could save your life tonight." Firesafetycouncil.com. (Jan. 28, 2012). www.firesafetycouncil.com/english/home_escape_plan.pdf
- "Escape Planning." Usfa.fema.gov. (Jan. 28, 2012). http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/escape/
- "Fire Extinguisher Safety and Tips." Clevelandcounty.com. (Jan. 28, 2012). http://www.clevelandcounty.com/emfm/fireext.htm
- "Fire Prevention Tips." Homesafetycouncil.org. (Jan. 28, 2012). http://www.homesafetycouncil.org/safetyguide/sg_fire_w001.asp
- "Home Fires Involving Cooking Equipment." Nfpa.org. (Jan. 28, 2012). www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/cookingexecutivesummary.pdf