House fires are nothing to take for granted. According to Ready.gov, a house fire can become life threatening within two minutes and completely engulf a home within five. Fires start for a variety of reasons. Learn to prevent house fires and what to do in the event that a fire breaks out in your home. Plan and prepare and teach every family member what to do in case of fire.
Emergency Fire Action Plan
During the fire, you have moments to react. If you are unable to extinguish a small fire quickly, evacuate. This isn’t the time to collect precious belonging; it is the time to alert loved ones to get out and stay out. Executing your emergency fire action plan should be easy if you have practiced and conducted drills with your family. Everyone should know what to do.
Hot Spots for Fires in the House
Kitchens are the most common but anywhere there is electrical wires, especially close to water can lead to fires. Old houses are more prone to fires with old and faulty wiring. Furnaces, water heaters and dryers are also prime potential fire zones in your home. The pilot light can ignite a dust ball or link leading to a fire. Keep these areas especially clean and clear from dust, pet hair and lint.
What to Do During a House Fire
Here is what to do in a house fire:
Extinguish the Fire If Possible
You should have a fire extinguisher in places where fires are likely to occur such as the kitchen, near a furnace or in the garage. It is also wise to keep one under the bathroom sinks. Point the extinguisher at the flames and house it. Grease fires in the kitchen can be stopped by covering the pot or pan with a lid and turning off the heat source. You can also use baking soda or salt to smother a small fire.
Do not throw water on a grease fire. This will not smother it but instead cause the flames to flash up and grow.
You may be able to smother small fires with a towel or clean rag. This should be left as a last resort since you can never be certain what is on a towel or rag that could react to the fire. A fire extinguisher is the best option. Fire extinguishers do have expiration dates so make sure yours are current.
Alert Everyone in the House
Call out, “Fire. Evacuate,” as you are putting out the fire. Alert everyone in the house that there is a fire and they should get outside then call for help. Try not to create panic, but in the event that you cannot put the fire out, it is best for everyone to be already out or on their way. This is the best time for other family members to grab a pet if they are near them. No one should go searching for a family pet but instead call for them.
Pets often hide in fires so searching for them endangers you. Leaving a door or window open will give the fire more fuel so it isn’t recommended. But if the fire is out of control and your pet knows his way out, it might be worth the risk. Leaving the door open might be moot if all windows were open anyone, providing plenty of oxygen to fuel the fire.
Calling 9-1-1 is critical. Even if you think you smothered or doused the fire, let the fire department give you the all clear. Embers can smolder for hours meaning you might be sound asleep with the fire starts back up creating additional hazards. 9-1-1 should always be immediately called even if you feel you have the fire under control.
Cover Nose and Mouth
Cover your nose and mouth with your shirt, a towel or any clean fabric to prevent inhaling toxic black smoke from the fire. The biggest dangers of smoke from fire go beyond eye, nose and throat irritation. The fine particles in the smoke can lead to respiratory issues, set off asthma attacks and worsen heart conditions.
Even once safely evacuated outside of the house, keep your nose and mouth covered to prevent inhaling smoke.
Evacuate People and Animals Safely
Fires can erupt at any point in time. If you are sleeping or in another area of the home when a fire breaks out, call out to others in the home to evacuate. Check doorknobs before you try to open closed doors. If they are hot, it suggests the fire is outside your room. Line the door with blankets or clothes to prevent smoke from coming in and look for an alternate way out.
Open the window or use a chair to break it if it is stuck. Homes with security bars should have releases on the inside of the home. All second story rooms should have a safety ladder to help trapped family members lower themselves out of the house. If your dog or cat is there with you, help them out. If they aren’t, get yourself out safely and let fire rescue workers know they are there.
Don’t Go Back In
Once you are out, stay out. Go to the designated safe meeting spot and do a head count of family members and pets. Tell fire rescue workers who is missing and where they are likely to be found in the house.
If You Are on Fire: Stop, Drop and Roll
If you are on fire, remember to Stop, Drop and Roll. Most of us learned this in elementary school years ago. If you are on fire, smothering the flames is the best way to stop the flames and limit extensive burns. Continue to roll until you are certain you have smothered the fire on your clothing and body. Douse your body in cool water as soon as possible.
Fire Plan Creation
Every family should sit down and create a fire plan. Make sure everyone knows exactly what to do if they hear the words, “Fire. Evacuate.” There should be no hesitation on the part of anyone when they hear those words.
Make sure everyone knows:
- What, “Fire. Evacuate,” means.
- How to check doorknobs before exiting a room.
- How to line a door to prevent smoke.
- What the safest exist path is from any room in the house.
- What the secondary exit path is from any room in the house.
- How to release window security bars.
- How to use safety ladders from second story rooms.
- How to use a fire extinguisher.
- Where the safe meeting spot is.
Families with young children should practice the drill with the children to the extent of learning how to use a safety ladder. Parents should have a plan of what to do if a fire breaks out in the middle of the night. We recommend the buddy system where dad is responsible for grabbing the bigger child and mom the smaller to evacuate. This prevents confusion if everyone knows who to get.
Your Home Fire Safety Tools
Every home should be equipped with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. Change the batteries of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors annually – we recommend doing it when you change your clocks for daylight savings time (so do it twice a year for your family’s safety).
Every bedroom should have one above the door. The room just outside the kitchen should have one as should all hallways and living areas. Check fire extinguishers regularly to make sure they are not damage or expired. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, hallway closets, bedrooms and main home storage areas. Also keep ladders and even crow bars in bedroom closets if you need to make an emergency exit.
When my son was an infant, the master bedroom and his room shared a wall but were a long open interior balcony away. If a fire was anywhere downstairs, that would have been engulfed quickly. We kept a crow bar behind the dresser just in case we couldn’t get out of our room. We could break the drywall that led to his closet. Always have a plan!
Practice Fire Drills
It’s smart to have planned and spontaneous fire drills for the family. Conduct them in ways to simulate potential fire situations like being woken up in the middle of the night or from different rooms in the house. Everyone should walk through the drill, grabbing any equipment needed to extinguish a fire or get out of the house and meet at the safety spot.
Debrief after the drill to see what went well and what didn’t. Ask kids if they remembered to cover their nose and mouth or check doorknobs. In an unanticipated drill, state that you called 9-1-1 so that no one in the family make a false call. If that happens, well, I’m sure your fire department will be pleased to know you are taking fire safety seriously. They might even let the kids jump on the truck and try on some gear – but don’t make it a habit. Some counties charge fees for fire response.
What to Do with Expired Fire Extinguishers
Use expired fire extinguishers to practice. It won’t harm you to discharge an expired extinguisher so learn to use it. Let the kids try. Take an old barbecue and set a small controlled fire. It builds a lot of confidence to practice with the fire extinguisher. They aren’t hard to use but if you haven’t ever used one, they can be intimidating.
Key Fire Safety Points
Remember that fire is dangerous. Families tend to worry about the bigger natural disasters because they make the news more often: earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. Fire is a bigger threat to everyone. Take the time to plan and practice fire safety in the house.
Here are the key fire safety points to remember:
- Make a plan and backup plan for home evacuation.
- Cover mouth and nose from smoke.
- Don’t look for pets or favorite toys.
- Set a buddy system for young children, seniors or disabled family members.
- Learn Stop, Drop and Roll
- Check all smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers annually.
- Have practice drills.
Fire safety is everyone’s concern. If your home is older, it is wise to update electrical wiring and circuits to new codes. This can reduce the chance of electrical fires erupting.
Emergency planning is a muscle that needs to be practiced. When families know what to do, lives are saved and property damage is limited. Take the time to take fire drills seriously.