You’re awakened from a dead sleep by the sound of your smoke alarm going off. In spite of your grogginess, the smell of smoke hits you and you are wide awake. There’s a fire in your apartment or home. Do you know what to do? If you have children, do they know what to do?
In a moment like this, seconds can mean the difference between getting out alive or becoming trapped. Now is not the time to figure out for the first time what to do. You need to have a plan you’ve rehearsed and practiced so all members of your family know what to do, even if they’re awakened in the middle of the night.
Draw a Picture: The first step to having a fire escape plan is draw a floor plan of your home. If your home is two or more stories, draw a floor plan for each level of the house including every room, door, and window. Identify two routes out for each room and double check all windows to make sure they can be easily opened by a child and an adult.
Second Story Equipment: Purchase a collapsible ladder approved by a recognized testing laboratory for each bedroom on the second story and above. These should only be used if the primary escape route is blocked by fire or debris. Children need to practice how to use the ladder including how to set it up and climb down it on their own.
Practice Time: Walk through the primary and secondary escape routes for each room utilizing your floor plan. Follow this up with several practice runs, using both escape routes, until everyone knows what to do and executes it well. Revisit and practice your escape plan twice a year during the day and at night. A great time to do this is when we “fall back” and spring forward on the time change.
Children should practice escaping on their own without any parental help. This teaches them what to do in the event you can’t reach them. If you have an older child, have them practice coordinating the escape of younger children too. They can be an excellent helper if things don’t go according to a plan.
Meeting Place: A critical part of the plan is the selection of a single meeting place where everyone meets after getting out of the home. This should be easily recognized during the day or night and safely away from a burning home. This could be a tree in the front yard that’s away from the house, where the driveway meets the street, etc. Once everyone safely arrives, conduct a headcount to ensure everyone got out.
Fire Safety Practices: In addition to having a fire escape plan that you’ve practiced until everyone knows what to do, you should also review these fire safety practices.
- When a fire occurs, immediately get out of the home. Don’t go looking for pictures, important papers, favorite toys, etc.; get out and stay out.
- Remember that a house can quickly fill with smoke making it difficult to breathe and see. Practice your escape plan crawling to safety. It’s easier to breathe when lower to the floor and you may be able to see better too.
- Touch all closed doors to see if they’re hot. A hot door indicates there is an active fire on the other side and opening it can lead to being severely burned by fire rushing toward you due to the new source of oxygen.
- Teach children how to dial 911 or your emergency number for fire and police. They should be able to provide their address and what part of the house they are in if unable to get out.
- If your home has burglar bars, they should be equipped with a quick release device. Make sure the quick release device works and everyone in the home knows how to use them.
- If you’re an empty nester with grandchildren, create an escape plan for the two of you and another one when the grandkids visit. Practice it with them so they know what to do when they’re in your home.
Having a pre-planned and practiced fire escape plan is critical to surviving one. If you haven’t changed out the batteries in your smoke detectors, now would be a good time to do that too! Share your thoughts, questions, and suggestions with me in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!