If you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about home fire drills, you’re not alone: It’s been estimated that about 26% of families have a practiced plan for navigating out of a home fire, as per the American Red Cross. That’s… not a lot. And that might be understandable, to a degree; it’s not something you want to think about, but it’s something you must think about. Keeping you and your family safe from a home fire is a top priority. The great news is that there are resources to help get you and your family to a prepared place.
The first thing to do is talk to the members of your family. Figure out what you need, from supplies like smoke alarms, extinguishers and safes; then figure out what conversations you need to have. The latter can pertain to escape plans and drills. Finally, commit to practicing; you want to have home fire drills a couple of times a year to keep responses smooth and quick.
Keep These Home Fire Safety Supplies On Hand
Smoke detectors are likely the first defense that comes to mind. You want to have one alarm in and outside every sleeping space, and at least one on every floor of your home, as per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). They should all sync up, too, shared the NFPA; when one sounds, they should all go off. Every 30 days, give them a test and replace necessary batteries, said the NFPA. You should also equip your home with carbon monoxide alarms. Carbon monoxide has no smell, and no appearance; making sure your home is free of carbon monoxide also requires detectors in and around sleeping areas and on all floors, as per the NFPA. Bruce Bouch, Fire Program Specialist for the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), tells Romper that carbon monoxide alarms should also be placed where fuel burning appliances are used and near attached garages.
The thinking around home fire extinguishers is a little more involved. As per the NFPA, the priority in a fire is for everyone to get out safely and for the fire department to be notified. And while your home can have portable fire extinguishers, they should be used for smaller, contained fires that aren’t filling your spaces with smoke. Educate yourself on how to use the fire extinguishers in your home, before you put them away and forget all about them. You can also look into installing a home fire sprinkler system to help put out potential fires.
Another good idea? “Consider getting escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second or third floor(s),” Jennifer Pipa, Vice President of Disaster Programs for the American Red Cross, tells Romper. “Learn how to use escape ladders and store them near the windows.” Keep in mind, Pipa says, that some escape ladders are single-use only, and others require installation before use, so make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. “Contact your local fire department for more information on bringing your home up to code and for fire extinguisher training.” You might also want to invest in a fire-proof safe, which can help keep important papers protected.
Have a fire safety checklist in an area of the house where people can refer to it often. It will contain reminders (like making sure items are far from stoves, making sure matches are out of kids’ reach) and guidelines for using extinguishers.
Practice Smart Fire Safety Habits In Your Home
Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires and home-fire injuries, says Pipa, so always stay in the kitchen and closely monitor anything you’re cooking. “Remember: Keep an eye on what you fry!” When it comes to areas that give off heat, move things at least 3-feet away, says Pipa. “Make sure to keep anything that can catch on fire — pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels, furniture, or curtains — away from your stove top, oven, or any other appliance that generates heat. This same rule applies to space heaters and fireplaces if you use them.”
If you or a home-member is a smoker, never smoke in bed, “and make sure that all smoking materials are properly extinguished,” Pipa says. When night falls, consider this advice from Bouch: Sleeping with the doors closed helps block smoke, toxic gases, heat and flames, allowing for additional time to escape.
Whether inside or outside, never leave a burning fire unattended, Pipa says, be it in a fireplace, fire pit in your yard, or at a campsite. When disposing of ashes from a fireplace or a charcoal grill, Bouch says to place them in a metal can with a tight sealing metal lid and place outside on a non-combustible surface, like a stone patio or concrete, at least 10 feet from the home — after allowing them to cool first, as per the USFA website. Hot coals can remain insulated within the remaining ashes for many hours after a fire is out, Bouch shares.
Make Family Fire Drills A Thing
Remember the three Ps: plan, participate, practice: “Having a plan will make sure everyone knows their role to get out safely,” Pipa says. “Have your family create an escape plan together to ensure that all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home, and where to meet up outside.” The goal is a two-minute exit, and twice-yearly practice drills with family members, Pipa says. Bouch also tells Romper to try adding a few obstacles when practicing.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Fire Safety
Sure, it’s a scary topic, but the conversations are necessary. “Many people incorrectly assume that their children know how to stay safe from a home fire, and know not to play with lighters and matches,” Pipa shares with Romper. “Make sure that you store lighters and matches out of the reach and sight of children. Teach young children to never touch these things. Also, keep small children away from cooking areas by enforcing a ‘kid-free zone’ of 3 feet around the stove.”
Familiarity with fire-safety terms, supplies, and plans can create a greater sense of calm around the topic. “Teach your children what smoke alarms sound like, and what to do when they hear one,” Pipa shares with Romper. Rehearse crawling low on the ground to stay below (imagined) smoke; practice touching doors and knobs to sense heat. Take a visit to the local firehouse. “Show your children what firefighters look like in their turnout gear. Tell your children to never hide from firefighters. Firefighters are your friends — they are there to help.”
There are also ways to make these fire-safety lessons less fearful. You can check out interactive games to help your child engage with the topic in a fun, and perhaps more familiar, way. For example, the Red Cross teamed up with Amazon’s Alexa to animate Pedro the Penguin in “Pedro’s Fire Challenge,” an “…interactive game with fun challenges, like crawling low under smoke, designed to help educate children aged 4 to 8 about home fire safety and coping skills,” Pipa says. You can also download Sparky’s Firehouse app from the NFPA on your smartphone or tablet, and find memory games that help kids remember things like their family’s outdoor meeting spot, or the sound of a fire alarm.
What To Remember In Case Of A Home Fire
If there’s a home fire, the priorities are to get out safely and notify the fire department. If you have a small cooking fire on a stovetop, says Pipa, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. “Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.” If there’s an oven fire, “turn off the heat and keep the door closed.” However, Pipa says, “If you have any doubt, just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire.” Don’t return into the house.
Ultimately remember that fear comes from the unknown, Pipa says. “Talking about home fire safety gives our kids some space to ask questions that can really help remove the unknown.”
Bruce Bouch, Fire Program Specialist for the U.S. Fire Administration
Jennifer Pipa, Vice President of Disaster Programs for the American Red Cross