Once an unwanted house fire breaks out, it's too late to make a fire escape plan and get your family out safely. According to the United States Fire Administration, there were 2,555 fire deaths and 13,275 injuries in the 362,100 residential fires that occurred in 2010. The fire deaths and injuries often do not make national headline news since they usually die one at a time in home fires. But it happens far too often.
The first and most important step is to make sure you have plenty of working smoke alarms in your home. There should be at least one on every level of the home, but you can put one in every room. They should be less than 10 years old, and should be tested monthly.
Batteries should be replaced every year so pick an easy date to remember, like Christmas or a birthday. They should be mounted on the ceiling or high on a wall, since they operate by the smoke from a fire that rises from the burning fuel.
The next step is to draw a picture of your home from a bird's eye view, with the roof missing. Draw in each room, label it and make an arrow for every way out of each room. This is typically two exits; one being the door and the other being the window. Make sure that everyone is able to operate the door and window, since some sliders have a top lock that is out of the reach for some.
Choose an outside family meeting place where all family members will meet to do a roll call. Someone should call the fire department, or have a neighbor call. Have someone meet the first arriving fire units and let the firefighters know if everyone is out of the house. This allows them to plan for the rescue, or plan to save your house and property as the first priority. The meeting place can be a large tree, neighbor's porch or other obvious landmark in the front of the house.
The most important step in the process is to practice the plan. Have everyone run through a test run while in their bedrooms. Have them practice crawling low (under smoke) towards the bedroom door. Feel the door with the back of your hand, and gently touch the doorknob. If it is not hot, open the door slightly and look up. Any smoke or fire outside the door is a signal to close the door and use the window as your exit. The plan should be updated as sleeping arrangements change since most deadly fires happen during the sleeping hours.
Once completed, the plan should be practiced every six months to help ensure that everyone remembers it and can perform it when needed. You may find that an adult needs to be the one to help an aging grandparent out or assist a young child who cannot open the bedroom window just yet. As always, if you have any further questions about any aspect of your home fire escape plan, stop by the fire department or call.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.