In 2011, home fires in the United States injured nearly 14,000 people and killed more than 2,500. On average, seven people die in home fires every day. Children, especially those ages 5 and younger, are twice as likely to die in home fires as older kids and adults because they are less likely to react appropriately. They may hide in closets or under beds. When firefighters burst upon the scene, a very young child is likely to be terrified by their massive outfits and equipment.
This week is National Fire Prevention Week, and there is no better time to prepare so if the worst does happen, everyone can get out of the house safely.
- The best thing you can do to protect your family is to install smoke alarms. Place at least one smoke alarm on each floor of the house, including the basement, and inside every bedroom and outside each sleeping area. Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half.
- Do not install smoke alarms too close to the kitchen and bathrooms, because steam and cooking smoke can trigger false alarms. Generally, smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance.
- Check the batteries regularly. Many alarms chirp when it is time to change them.
- Replace all smoke alarms every 10 years.
Go through the motions
- Get your family together for a fire drill so that everyone learns what to do in case of a fire. Even children as young as 3 years can learn the basics to be prepared. Build an escape plan and share it with your family. Draw the floor plan of your house and show each family member two ways to get out of each room. Make sure all family members know how to open windows.
- If you live in an apartment building, be certain everyone knows to use the stairs and never the elevator.
- Agree on a meeting place outside your house — a tree, street corner or fence — where everyone can gather after escaping. Teach your kids that they should get outside as soon as they hear the smoke alarm.
- Each member of your family should know how to call the fire department. Everyone should exit the house first before making the call.
- Let your kids know that firefighters are there to help and they shouldn’t be afraid of them.
- Close doors behind you as you leave.
- Practice your drill twice a year so that it stays fresh.
Learn the basics
- Teach your kids to crawl. Most fire deaths and injuries come from smoke inhalation, and the clearest air is nearest to the floor. Your child should crawl on her hands and knees to the safest exit.
- Test a closed door with the back of your hand. If it’s very hot, do not open the door. Close doors as you leave each room to keep the fire from spreading.
- Remember Stop, Drop and Roll. If your child’s clothes catch fire, teach him to stop where he is, drop on the floor, and roll over and over to put out the flames.
- Once you are out of the house, do not try to go back in for pets or possessions. Firefighters are very skilled in finding and saving those who are trapped. Let them know immediately if anyone is missing.
Follow these fire safety guidelines
- Never leave small children alone in the house, even for a few minutes.
- If you smoke, smoke outside. Never smoke cigarettes in bed. Dispose of ashes and butts safely.
- Teach children not to play with matches or lighters. Keep these items out of reach and out of sight.
- Don’t wear loose-fitting clothing while cooking, near the fireplace or an open space heater.
- Never leave cooking equipment unattended while in use.
- Have your heating system and chimney checked and cleaned on a regular basis.
- Check electrical cords and appliances regularly for wear or loose connections.
- Place fire extinguishers near the kitchen and near the fireplace — anywhere the risk of fire is the greatest.
Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD