Safety: A Fire Escape Plan
Fire has been a number one household danger ever since the day, many eons ago, when our prehistoric ancestors got the idea of bringing fire indoors for cave heating and dinosaur cooking. Since then, accidents and total household destructions have occurred due to misunderstanding, miscalculations and mis-use of this powerful force of nature.
Today, fire is without doubt the single most immediate threat to people and residential property. If there is any doubt that this is the case, have a look at the following statistics compiled by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
In 2014, there were 1,298,000 fires reported in the United States. These fires caused 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 civilian injuries, and $11.6 billion in property damage.
- 494,000 were structure fires, causing 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 civilian injuries, and $9.8 billion in property damage.
- 193,500 were vehicle fires, causing 345 civilian fire deaths, 1,450 civilian fire injuries, and $1.5 billion in property damage.
- 610,500 were outside and other fires, causing 70 civilian fire deaths, 900 civilian fire injuries, and $237 million in property damage.
As effective as statistics are in helping drive home a point, they can also tend to be callous. Society tends to regard statistics as something that happens to “someone else.” Make no mistake about it, every one of the 3,570 Americans who lost their lives to fire were anything but a statistic. They were people just like us – part of someone’s family. One thing about fire – it doesn’t discriminate by age, race, sex, religion or economic status.
And while the $10 billion figure is staggering, buildings and personal property can be replaced; people can’t!
Are you and your family prepared for a house fire? How would you get out of your burning house? To have working smoke detectors and properly charged fire extinguishers aren’t enough. You and your family MUST have an escape plan.
For most of us having an emergency escape plan is not a new concept. We can remember as children in grade school reacting to the surprise fire drills that occurred on a regular basis. Still, as adults, whenever we travel by air we are reminded to identify the closest emergency exit. When it comes to fire – or any potential disaster – there is no substitute for good planning.
Start by drawing an emergency escape plan that clearly outlines all of the rooms in your home – including hallways, stairs, windows and doors. Be sure to include significant exterior landmarks such as trees, shrubs, paths, patios and driveway. These will be extremely useful when predetermining a central meeting place outside.
The plan should clearly outline at least two ways out of each room – a door and a window, for example. This is especially important for bedrooms since most residential fires occur while the family is asleep. The easier of the two should be the primary route (usually the door). The window should be used if fire prevents the door from being used.
Roll-out or fold-up fire escape ladders consisting of chain or other approved material should be kept at bedrooms above ground level. Make certain that windows and window screens can be easily opened – especially by the young and old. Small or arthritic hands can make a seemingly simple task impossible.
A well thought out escape plan is a good start. Practice make’s the plan a real lifesaver! Hold organized family fire drills at least twice annually and more often if there are elderly people or children in your home. When performing practice drills, vary the location of the “fire” since an escape route can change according to fire location.
Once everyone knows what to do, also perform run-throughs with closed eyes – simulating darkness or smoke filled passages – counting and memorizing the number of steps to each and every turn and ultimately to safety.
An integral element of an escape plan is a preset designated meeting place where everyone should gather once safely outside. And once everyone is out, STAY OUT until help arrives and NEVER reenter the house for any reason.
Children are particularly vulnerable to home fires. Many children believe that they can hide from fire. Teach them that they can’t hide from fire and that smoke is equally dangerous. Most children are familiar with the “stop, drop and roll” technique used to extinguish burning clothing. Not so well known is the technique used to avoid smoke inhalation. Instruct children – and all family members – to crawl on knees (staying low to the ground) and, if possible, to keep their mouths covered with a towel or cloth as a means of avoiding smoke inhalation.
Finally, designate someone to call the fire department using a cell phone or a neighbor’s telephone.
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