It’s 2:00 a.m. and you awake in a panic. The smoke alarm is beeping as the air fills with smoke. “The children!” you cry out, your heart racing.
How much time would you and your family have to escape your home in this scenario? Five minutes? Four? Think again. According to the American Red Cross, you might have as little as two minutes to evacuate everyone safely.
In recognition of Fire Prevention Week – which runs from Sunday, October 8, through Saturday, October 14 – here are some ideas of things you and your family can do together to reduce the likelihood of fire in your home, as well as know how to respond in case of a fire emergency.
Protect Your Family: Smoke Detectors
We’ve all heard about the value of smoke detectors a million times, and with good reason. Installing and maintaining smoke detectors is still the most important step you can take to protect your family from fire death or injury.
What You Already Know About Smoke Detectors
The detector should be no more than ten years old. You can check the date on the back of the unit. Test the batteries monthly, and replace often. Install them in all bedrooms, hallways outside bedrooms, and on each level of your home.
What You Might Not Know About Smoke Detectors
There are two types of smoke detectors: photoelectric and ionization. Photoelectric works better with slower, smoldering fires, while the ionization type is more suited to faster, flaming fires. Most experts recommend that you have both in your home. You can learn more about them here.
One Big Problem: Children Sleep Through Smoke Alarms
Do not assume that the beep of a smoke alarm will wake up your sleeping child, even if the alarm is close to his or her bed. Children spend more time in deep sleep, and they are much less likely to be awakened by an alarm. Yes, this is frightening.
It’s possible, however, that a simple technological tweak to current beeping tone alarms could wake children from deep sleep and save lives.
In a 2006 study, significantly more children were awakened by an alarm that played a parent’s recorded voice calling their names, than by a beeping tone. Children who were awakened by the voice alarm escaped in around 38 seconds, while the children awakened by the tone needed five minutes to evacuate.
Unfortunately, these personalized parent-voice alarms are not yet widely available. You can buy alarms with preloaded messages that warn “Fire!” However, these have not yet been proven as successful as alarms that use a parent’s voice and the child’s name. Still, it’s worth investigating.
The Escape Plan: Make It a Game!
Take the time to plan an escape route for everyone in the home, designating a “meet up spot” outside. What good is an escape route, though, if no one remembers it? The answer is simple: practice, and make it fun! Kids love games and challenges. Record the time it takes everyone to make it from their beds to the meetup spot, and then try to beat that time. The more often you practice, the more likely your children are to follow the plan, rather than freeze in panic or confusion when every second counts. Set your calendar to remind you to practice monthly.
This online tool from the American Red Cross can help you plan your family’s escape route.
Teach Children with “Firefighter Says!”
ConsumerSafety.org has put together a simple “Firefighter Says” game (remember Simon Says?) to help teach younger children how to prevent fires and what to do in case a fire ever happens. This fun and educational game is great for parents, teachers, and anyone else who is looking to teach younger children about fire safety.
Additional Tips for Preventing Fires in the Home
For more information about fire safety and prevention, see our Fire Safety Guide.
- According to the National Fire Protection Association, 2 out of 5 home fires begin in the kitchen. Never leave the kitchen when food is cooking (especially on the burners), and keep a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen.
- Have your chimneys cleaned regularly, and be very careful with portable space heaters. Make sure they are several feet away from drapes, clothing, or anything that could catch fire.
- Are your outlets overloaded? Check the circuit loads of your electrical appliances and devices. You might need to install additional circuits.
- Never smoke in bed or while lying on the sofa. (Or better yet, give up smoking altogether!)
- Inspect your appliance cords. If any are torn, ripped, or damaged in any way, replace them immediately. If a cord or plug ever feels hot, unplug it.
- Use extension cords correctly. Follow these recommendations from the Electrical Safety Foundation International.