2007-10-06 / News

Fire Prevention Week: Practice your escape plan

By National Fire Protection Association

Fire can spread rapidly through your home, leaving you as little as two minutes to escape safely once the alarm sounds. Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms, and advance planning - a home fireescape plan that everyone in your family is familiar with and has practiced.

Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning.

• Practice your plan. Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. For easy planning, download NFPA's escape planning grid (PDF, 634 KB). This is a great way to get children involved in firesafety in a non-threatening way.

• Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code® requires interconnected smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

• Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.

• Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan.

• Go outside to see if your street number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.

• Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the firedepartment. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.

• If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the firedrill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.

• If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Emergency release devices won't compromise your security - but they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.

• Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family's fire escape plan. When staying overnight at other people's homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don't have a plan in place, offer to help them make one. This is especially important when children are permitted to attend "sleepovers" at friends' homes. See NFPA's "Sleepover firesafety for kids" fact sheet.

• Be fully prepared for a real fire: when a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately. Residents of high-rise and apartment buildings may be safer "defending in place."

• Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the firedepartment dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

Putting your plan

to the test

• Practice your home fire escape plan twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.

• Make arrangements in your plan for anyone in your home who has a disability.

• Allow children to master fireescape planning and practice before holding a firedrill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.

• It's important to determine during the drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation.

• If your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. Escape ladders can be placed in or near windows to provide an additional escape route. Review the manufacturer's instructions carefully so you'll be able to use a safety ladder in an emergency. Practice setting up the ladder from a first floor window to make sure you can do it correctly and quickly. Children should only practice with a grown-up, and only from a first-story window. Store the ladder near the window, in an easily accessible location. You don't want to have to search for it during a fire.

• Always choose the escape route that is safest - the one with the least amount of smoke and heat - but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to your exit.

• Closing doors on your way out slows the spread of fire, giving you more time to safely escape.

• In some cases, smoke or firemay prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice "sealing yourself in for safety" as part of your home fireescape plan. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and bottom so fresh air can get in. Call the firedepartment to report your exact location. Wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth at the window to let the firedepartment know where you are located.

Safety tips

To increase fire safety in manufactured homes, NFPA offers the following guidelines:

• Choose a HUD-certified manufactured home

If you are in the market to purchase or rent a manufactured home, select a home built after 1976 that bears the HUD label certifying compliance with safety standards.

• Keep smoke alarms working. Never remove or disable a smoke alarm. If you experience frequent nuisance alarms, consider relocating the alarm further away from kitchen cooking fumes or bathroom steam. Selecting a photoelectric smoke alarm for the areas nearest kitchens and baths may reduce the number of nuisance alarms experienced. As an alternative, NFPA 501 permits a smoke alarm with a silencing means to be installed if it is within 20 feet of a cooking appliance. Test all smoke alarms at least once a month by pushing the "test" button. It is not necessary to use smoke or a real flame to test the smoke alarm's operability, and it is risky to do so. Replace batteries at least once a year, and when the alarm "chirps," signaling low battery power. Occasionally dust or lightly vacuum smoke alarms.

• Make sure you have enough smoke alarms

If your older manufactured home does not have smoke alarms in or near every sleeping room and in or near the family/living area(s), immediately install new alarms and fresh batteries to protect these rooms. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

• Plan your escape

Know ahead of time how you will get out if you have a fire. Develop an escape plan which includes having an alternate exit out of every room. Make sure you can open and get out of windows and doors. All post-HUD Standard manufactured homes are required to provide windows designed for use as secondary escape routes for the bedroom. Familiarize yourself with their operation and don't block access to them. Immediately fix any windows that have been painted or nailed shut, doors that are stubborn or "stuck," and locks that are difficultto operate. Security bars or grates over windows or doors should have quick-release devices installed inside, which allow you to open them in an emergency. Hold a firedrill twice a year to rehearse how you will react if the smoke alarm sounds.

• Electrical

Hire a licensed electrician if you notice flickering lights, frequent blown circuits, or a "hot" smell when using electricity. Use extension cords for temporary convenience, not as a permanent solution. Avoid overloading electrical receptacles (outlets). Electrical cords should not be run under carpets or rugs, as the wires can be damaged by foot traffic, then overheat and ignite the carpet or rug over them. Ground-fault circuit interrupters reduce the risk of electrical shock and should be installed by electricians in kitchens and baths. Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters monitor electric circuits for arcing and should be installed by electricians on bedroom circuits.

• Cooking

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires in U.S. homes. Supervise older children who cook and stay in the kitchen when heating anything on the stove. Keep cooking surfaces clean and place anything that can burn well away from the range. Heat oil slowly and know how to slide a lid over a pan if you expe- rience a grease fire. Read more cooking safety tips.

• Heating

Keep space heaters at least three feet away from anything that can burn. When purchasing new space heaters, select appliances with automatic shut-off switches. Kerosene heaters are illegal for home use in some jurisdictions. Check with your local firedepartment before purchasing a kerosene heater. Turn off portable space heaters before falling asleep or when leaving the room. Refillkerosene heaters outdoors, after the heater has cooled down. Supervise children and pets when space heaters are operating. Read more heating safety tips.

• Walls

All post-HUD Standard manufactured homes are required to have wall linings that do not promote rapid flame spread, with special protection around primary heating and cooking equipment, such as the furnace and cooking range. Presently, gypsum wallboard has replaced plywood wall paneling and wood based ceiling panels in the fabrication of manufactured housing walls and ceilings. This action has dramatically reduced the impact of fires in manufactured homes. Do not mount anything on the walls - such as paneling, drapery, or wall hangings - that would reduce this protection, especially near major heat sources.

• Smoking

If you have smokers in your home, ask them to smoke outside. Wherever people smoke, set out large, non-tip ashtrays on level surfaces and empty them frequently. Thoroughly douse butts with water before discarding. Check around and under cushions for smoldering butts. Read more smoking safety tips.

• Protect yourself from intruders

Install outdoor lighting to deter intruders, including would-be arsonists. Keep gasoline, charcoal lighter and other flammable liquids locked in an outdoor shed. Don't store items underneath your home. Store firewood away from your home and keep trash and other flammable debris cleaned up. Report any suspicious activity in your neighborhood.

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