It's the middle of the night. There's this high-pitched squeal and flashing lights but no music. What kind of club is this? You awake to the smell of smoke, realizing this is no dream, and the frightening sound of the fire alarm echoes.
What's the plan? Do you have one? You don't know where the fire is or who is in danger. Not having a safety plan in place endangers your family further. In a real home fire, you have mere minutes to make your exit safely from the time the fire alarm goes off. All family members have to know what their personal exit strategy is to make the most of that small amount of time.
It's National Fire Prevention Month, and that means it's the perfect time to educate your family about fire prevention and safety. The best place to start is creating a safety plan.
Creating Your Family Fire Safety Plan
Though school systems typically address fire safety, it's essential that parents create a fire safety plan for their home. The most effective safety plans include placing smoke detectors on every level of your house, in all bedrooms and close to sleeping areas The exit strategy should have at least two possibilities for getting out of rooms, typically a window or door, that provide an unobstructed way to a designated meeting spot outside.
Your designated meeting spot shouldn't be too close to the home in case of falling debris or explosions. Pick a landmark that's easy to spot such as a tree, a mailbox or a light pole, as long as it's far from the house. Kids should be advised to go to a trusted neighbor's home who is aware of the plan if they can't find their parents.
It's not enough to just say what the plan is. You have to practice the exit strategies in fire drills at least two times a year, with one at day and one at night, using various paths out. Children should learn to call for help and how to escape on their own because those minutes after the fire alarm are precious time not to be wasted.
Be aware of fire safety tips that may be helpful during an escape. For example, shutting doors behind you could prevent the spread of a fire, and lining the bottom of a door with a blanket, preferably wet, helps preserve oxygen if you're struggling to get out of a window.
Make sure windows aren't painted shut and barred windows have an emergency release. Make the house number clearly visible from afar. A good tip is to paint the number on the curb.
Get the family involved in drawing a map that accurately represents your home, with two exit routes for every room and the designated meeting place marked. Children should have a copy of the exit plan in their rooms in an easily visible place.
Educating Your Family on Survival and Prevention
Do family members know what to do when a fire starts and if they catch on fire? The most important thing is to get out and call 911, and if you catch on fire, the best strategy is still to stop, drop and roll:
- Stop everything you’re doing.
- Drop to the floor or ground, covering your face.
- Roll backward and forward until the flames are quenched.
Remember, running only causes the fire to burn brighter and faster because of the oxygen fueling it. Once safe, cool burnt skin under running water for at least three minutes.
If trapped, family members should place a wet towel under a hot door to slow the progress of the smoke, heat and fire, and try another exit strategy. If both exits are blocked, they should go to the window and signal for help by yelling or waving a white t-shirt or another object that works to gain attention.
Prevention is always the best strategy for survival, especially 1.3 billion fires reported to the fire department last year. All family members should learn how to operate a fire extinguisher using the P.A.S.S. method:
- Pull the pin to unlock the extinguisher.
- Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire from at least eight feet away. (Tell kids to imagine a tall basketball player’s height as the distance.)
- Squeeze the lever to release the agent.
- Sweep from left to right, like reading a book, until the flames are extinguished.
Inspect fire extinguishers once a month, along with smoke detectors. Check around the house for old electrical equipment or malfunctioning parts that pose a fire hazard.
Children should also know to stay away from hot surfaces and not to leave certain items plugged in, such as Mom's curling iron. Teach children early that water and electricity don’t mix, keeping all electrical devices at least ten feet away from water and safely stored. Parents should set a good example and explain that they're not leaving candles unattended and stating aloud when making sure they're turning the stove off.
When you have a fire safety plan in place, your family will be able to take advantage of the precious time they have to act to reach safety. All family members should learn about potential fire hazards, including malfunctioning electrical components or electrical equipment that comes into contact with water. Family members should also know how to stop, drop and roll to quench fires on themselves and to P.A.S.S. the fire extinguisher over small, manageable fires.
Educate your family about fire prevention this month, and revisit your plan every year, keeping smoke detectors and fire extinguishers updated. Safety first is always best for everyone.