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Fire is the number one household killer in America, so it's essential to have a working fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and a well-rehearsed escape route in the event of a house fire. Here's what you can do to help keep your family safe.
How can I prepare my family to respond to a house fire?
- Call your local fire department or volunteer rescue organization to schedule an in-home visit. Most communities offer fire prevention training as a free service to residents. Firefighters can offer suggestions for coming up with the safest route possible out of your home, check your smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, and point out potential fire hazards.
- Identify two ways out of every room. This helps to avoid panic if one path is too dangerous to follow.
- Create a simple, efficient route. The idea is to get out of the house as quickly as possible – a small fire can become an out-of-control blaze in less than 30 seconds.
- Practice fire drills with your family and everyone who regularly cares for your children. Practice leaving the house with your eyes closed or a blindfold on – fire starts with a bright flame but quickly fills the house with black smoke and complete darkness.
- If you live in a house that has two or more stories, buy a portable escape ladder that can be lowered out a window. Make sure it's tested by a nationally reputable laboratory (such as Underwriters Laboratory), and show everyone where ladder is kept and how it works.
- If you live in an apartment building, don't include elevators in your evacuation plan because they can easily malfunction or get stuck between floors.
- Teach your children that if they get trapped in their room, they should lie on the floor close to their bed. That's where firefighters will look for them.
- Designate a meeting place – a safe spot outside the house where everyone can gather and be accounted for.
How do I protect my family in a house fire?
- Your family's safety is the most important thing, so don't stop to grab possessions or papers, and don't waste precious escape time calling 911 from inside your house during a fire. Call the fire department after you're safely outside. If you don't have your phone with you, ask a neighbor or someone passing by for help.
- Remember that smoke and poisonous gas – not flames – are the leading causes of fire-related deaths. If hallways and exit routes are filled with smoke, get down and crawl. Smoke rises, so the air will be clearer closer to the floor. If you can't crawl under the smoke or get out safely, close the door and cover vents and cracks around the doors with cloth or tape to keep out the smoke.
- Lightly touch doors and doorknobs before opening them to test whether they're hot. If they are, use an alternate route. Windows are excellent exits on first floors and can be used on upper floors to gain temporary refuge on roofs and porches until help arrives.
- If you can't make it out of the house and have a phone, call 911. Let them know where you are in the house, and signal for help at the window.
- Stop, drop, and roll if your clothing or hair catches on fire, and teach your children to do the same. If your child's clothing is on fire, wrap him quickly in a blanket to put out the flames.