6 Fire Safety Tips for Your Family

by Gina Roberts-Grey

October is a time to focus on something far more frightening than witches, goblins and monsters. This is National Fire Safety Month. In the thousands of home fires that occur every year, more than 5,000 people lose their lives.
According to statistics collected by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), injuries to children in fires occur nearly twice as often as injuries to adults. The NFPA has designated Oct. 7-13 as Fire Prevention Week. Protecting your family with these six safety tips significantly increases the odds of survival in the event of a fire.

For More Info

For the National Fire Protection Association’s step-by-step home escape planning instructions, visit www.nfpa.org (click Learning, then Public education, then Safety tips and fact sheets).
For a variety of home fire safety topics, visit www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens
Contact your local fire station to learn what programs it offers families. Make sure everyone in the family knows to call 911 in the event of a fire.

1. Smoke detectors save lives. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, properly installed and maintained smoke detectors reduce the chances of fire injury or death by at least 50 percent.
Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. suggests checking the batteries in smoke alarms twice a year, testing alarms once a month,and frequently vacuuming the dust that collects on them to ensure proper operation.
Most local codes require that smoke alarms be located on each floor of the home. The U.S. Fire Administration notes that a closed door can prevent smoke from reaching a smoke alarm. So if you sleep with your bedroom door closed, you should add a smoke alarm in the bedroom.
2. Space heater safety. Blaine Fox, general manager of ServiceMark in West Chester, PA, suggests, “Carefully read the directions for using space heaters. It’s the most basic rule of all, yet it’s amazing how many consumers fail to read the owner’s manual.” The elements of some electric heaters are hot enough to ignite nearby combustibles such as draperies, paper, clothing, furniture or flammable liquids. The heater’s directions will tell you how far to keep it from combustible objects. As an added measure, check surrounding objects to see if they feel hot.
3. Fire extinguisher smarts. Knowing how and when to operate fire extinguishers reduces the risk of injury. The NFPA recommends that homeowners select a multi-purpose extinguisher (one that can be used on all types of home fires) that is large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle.
Your fire extinguisher should carry the label of an independent testing laboratory. Read the instructions and become familiar with its operation. Some local fire departments or fire equipment distributors offer hands-on fire extinguisher training.
Install the extinguisher close to an exit and keep your back to a clear exit when you use the device so you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
4. Know the way to safety. Draw up an escape plan that diagrams your house and provides three escape options. Everyone in the household must understand the plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily. Have family fire drills to rehearse it.
If fire occurs, knowing how to get to safety, and where to meet the rest of the family, reduces the chances your children will freeze from panic. Because the coolest, most smoke-free air is often near the floor, practice crawling and using towels and pillowcases to shield your mouths and noses in the event of a fire.
Discuss how your children should react if a fire starts when they’re home with a sitter or alone. The National Safety Council urges parents to instruct children to go to a neighbor’s house to call 911 in the event of a fire.
5. Talk about pets and sentimental objects. The love of family pets and attachment to sentimental memorabilia often sends children or parents alike running back into a burning structure. In family discussions about fire safety, consistently stress that the most important factor is everyone exiting the house safely. Children should be told that if a pet trapped inside your home, you will inform the firefighters right away. They are trained in fire rescue.
6. No time to hide. We drill our children not to talk to strangers. Retired firefighter Scott Timmons of Camden, NJ notes that the frightening sounds and searing heat of house fires often causes children to hide under the bed or in a closet. Coupled with the fear of talking to strangers, even firefighters, this tendency can result in tragedy.
Timmons urges parents to educate their children on the role of firefighters. “I’ve rescued children who were hiding behind filing cabinets or mounds of clothes because they were scared of us,” he says.
Fire preparedness measures, coupled with common sense, can give your family a sense of security about fire. In the unlikely event fire strikes your home, you’ll be glad you took the time.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer.