Surviving a home fire: Planning and practice make perfect

Mary Lou Jay

If your children woke up to a smoke-filled house, would they know where to go and what to do? Are you ready to react quickly and get your family to safety?

Every family should prepare a fire plan and practice that plan with home fire drills. But only 28 percent of families with children under age 12 have done so, according to a 2011 Liberty Mutual Insurance study. Overall, only 38 percent of parents have developed a fire plan or discussed it with their children.

In its survey of 500 parents, Liberty Mutual found that most who haven't developed a safety plan simply hadn't thought of doing it. One out of five parents said they didn't know how to create a fire safety plan. A little more than one-fourth said they thought their children were too young to understand such a plan.

If you don't have a home fire plan, it's time to make one. During 2010, someone in the United States died in a fire every 169 minutes, and someone was injured in a fire every 30 minutes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children under age 4 and adults age 65 and older have an increased risk of fire-related deaths and injuries.

Make the fire emergency plan a family activity. With your children's help, draw a map of your home, indicating the various bedrooms, such as the kitchen and family room. Mark all doors and windows clearly, so everyone can see where the possible exits are in relation to their rooms. The map doesn't have to be elaborate. Use simple shapes like squares and rectangles to indicate various areas.

Look at your map with your kids and try to find at least two escape routes that they could use in the event of a fire, usually a bedroom door and a window. If their bedrooms are on the second floor, discuss how they'd get to safety if they had to use the window exit. You may want to purchase emergency rollup ladders for this purpose.

One of the most important places to mark on your map is the location away from the house where everyone in the family will meet once they've made it to safety.

The Home Safety Council recommends practicing your fire plan at least twice a year. Tell children to "stay low and go" when fire alarms go off or when they see smoke. Teach them how to check the doorknob to feel whether it's hot or cold, and what to do in either case. If there's more than one adult in the home, decide in advance which adults will assist which child.

The Home Safety Council has step-by-step suggestions for conducting home fire drills and for getting your family to safety if fire strikes. You also may find some tips about fire prevention and home fire plans at your local fire department or on your state fire marshal's website.

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