According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of seven people per day died in home fires from 2011-2015, with fire departments responding to an average of 385,500 home structure fires during that same time period.
The leading causes of those home structure fires was cooking equipment (47 percent), heating equipment (15 percent), electrical distribution/lighting equipment (9 percent), intentional (8 percent) and smoking materials (5 percent). The majority of home fires took place in the winter months — January, February, December and March. In addition, fires that occurred between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am caused 52 percent of all home fire deaths.
With winter bearing down on us, now is the time to review your family’s home fire escape plan and check your smoke detectors. If your family does not have a home fire escape plan, it’s important you create one because fire can spread very rapidly through a home leaving little time for individuals to think through their escape options.
The NFPA offers the following tips when making a family escape plan:
- Plan together. Make the plan together as a family so it is clear to everyone what the plan is. Drawing a floor plan makes it easier for children to visualize. Be certain to mark two exits for each room. The NFPA offers a free grid that is easy to use to create an escape plan.
- Be certain people can use the chosen escape routes. When choosing escape routes, be certain there are no obstacles such as security bars or locks that make it difficult for children to open. Have your children try to open the windows on their own, to be certain they can. If the window is on the second floor, you should have an escape ladder stored by the window and be certain everyone knows how to use it.
- Define a safe spot. In the event of a fire, you want to account for everyone quickly. Choose a spot that is a safe distance from your home — be it a house across the street, a mailbox, or traffic sign. Mark the safe spot on your plan. Remind everyone that they should never re-enter a burning building once they have escaped. If someone is missing, inform the emergency dispatcher when you call.
- Assign helpers. If someone in your home will need help escaping, assign helpers and backup helpers in the event that person is not at home.
- Discuss what makes a route safe. The closest exit isn’t always the safest exit so be certain children understand that they should choose the route with the least heat and smoke. Remind everyone that they should get low when escaping so as to avoid toxic smoke.
- Talk about “sheltering in place.” In some instances, there may not be a safe way to escape. Talk to your children about what to do in that situation: close doors between you and the fire, cover the crack under the door and air vents with towels or clothing to prevent smoke from coming into the room, open windows at the top and bottom to let in fresh air and wave a flashlight or white/light-colored cloth out the window to alert the fire department of your location.
- Test your deep sleepers. Some people — especially children — are deep sleepers. If you know you have deep sleepers (or set off the alarm in the middle of the night and notice someone doesn’t hear it), assign a helper for that person.
- If you run practice drills, do so during the day so that you don’t frighten the children. If you run a drill in the middle of the night, tell the children before they go to bed that you will run a drill that night. Again, you don’t want to frighten the child, just practice.
Other home fire safety tips include:
- Install fire alarms in every bedroom, outside every bedroom and on every level of the home.
- Close doors at night when you sleep because that can slow the spread of smoke.
- Be certain your street number is easily visible from the street, as this will make it easier for the fire department to locate your home.