How to protect your family from fire

Your home may be filled with fire hazards that aren’t obvious. Here’s where to look, and what you should own to make your home safer.

Does your family know what to do if a fire breaks out in your home? Have you ever checked your home for potential fire hazards? If you answer “no” to either question, your family could be in danger.

You’ll see fire hazards in your home you might not be aware of and how to reduce these risks, products to help protect your home and, most importantly, what to do if there is a fire.

A hazard can hide

Some fire hazards are fairly obvious, like storing gasoline near your furnace, or smoking in bed. People should know better than to make either of these mistakes

But, some fire hazards aren’t so obvious. They can be found in almost every room of the house. Have you checked your house for the hidden hazards?

Fire facts

  • 1339 civilian home fire deaths between January 1st, 2018 and June 16, 2018, according to FEMA.
  • Matches and lighters are involved in 94.4% of fires set by children.
  • Most home fires start at night, during sleeping hours.
  • Most fatal home fires occur in homes without smoke detectors.
  • Children under the age of 10 are twice as likely to die in fire than a person between ages 10-64.
  • Persons aged 65 and older are three times more likely to die in a fire than a person between ages 10-64.

Hazards and cures

Use this section to inspect your home. You might prevent a fire.

Hazard: matches and lighters

Cure: Keep them away from children. Out of reach and out of sight. They should be used only by adults.

Hazard: improper use of space heaters

Cure: Use only laboratory/UL approved heaters. Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from furniture, drapes or other flammable materials. Keep children away, too. Turn heaters off before leaving home or going to bed.

Hazard: careless cooking

Cure: Pay attention when cooking at the stove. Keep sleeves buttoned or tightly rolled, or wear short sleeves. Keep pot handles turned in, so pots can’t be tipped accidently. Never climb on or reach over a stove.

Hazard: overloaded outlets

Cure: Prevent outlet overloading and having octopus outlets by using a laboratory/UL approved strip outlet. Make sure it has a built-in circuit breaker.

Also, repair or replace any defective cords or plugs, Never run extension cords under furniture or rugs.

Hazard: dirty or damaged fireplace or chimney

Cure: Have the chimney and fireplace inspected annually. Check for cracks, crumbling bricks, obstructions and creosote build-up. A professional chimney sweep can perform both cleaning and inspection. Stop flying sparks with a fireplace screen or approved fireplace doors.

If you use your fireplace regularly, keep a chimney fire extinguisher nearby. When used correctly, it slows the spread of a chimney fire and can provide the extra minutes of fire control needed before the fire department arrives.

Hazard: dirty workshop

Cure: Clean up shavings, sawdust and debris, on and around the work area, immediately after work is finished. A single spark from an electric motor can ignite sawdust.

Hazard: paint/shop rags

Cure: Clean up old paint or shop rags and throw them away. Or, if you want to use them again, store in an airtight, metal container. These rags are extremely flammable.

Hazard: faulty electrical system

Cure: Have your local electrical inspector inspect and certify your electrical system, especially if it’s been added to, or altered. Follow all electrical codes, both national and local.

Have additional outlets installed, instead of relying on extension cords. Make sure special appliances, such as air conditioners or large space heaters, have their own correct size circuit.

Hazard: flammable liquids

Cure: Store all flammable liquids in their original containers with lids tightly closed and away from heat. Keep out of reach of children. Never smoke when working with or near any flammable liquid.

Use the appropriate container for fuel storage (gasoline can for gasoline, kerosene can for kerosene). Store all fuels in a garage (wall farthest from living area) or shed, never in the house.

What to do if there’s a fire

  • Stay calm. Carry out your escape plan in an orderly fashion. Panic can spell disaster.
  • Alert everyone. Make sure all occupants know there’s a fire. Shout out a clear warning: “FIRE! EVERYONE GET OUTSIDE!”
  • Escape. Get out of the house immediately. Don’t waste precious time getting dressed, or gathering valuables.
  • Feel a door before opening it. If the door’s hot, or there’s smoke coming in underneath it, don’t open it. Use your secondary room exit.
  • If there’s smoke crawl, get on your hands and knees. The safestair is between 12 and 36 inches off the floor.
  • If your clothes catch on fire: Stop, Drop, and Roll. Cover your face with your hands. Never run, because running gives the fire more oxygen.
  • Meet. Go to designated meeting spot. Count heads to see that everyone’s accounted for. But, DON’T GO BACK IN THE HOUSE. Leave the rescuing to the fire department.
  • Call. USE YOUR CELL PHONE. If there’s a fire alarm box, use it. Or go to a neighbor’s house to call the fire department. Don’t attempt to use your landline; it’s too dangerous.

Plan your escape

Smoke detectors can alert you to a fire, but without an escape plan. you‘re still in danger. Every family member must know how to react and where to go, in case of a fire.

The NFPA has developed EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home). With EDITH’s help, you can formulate your family’s escape plan.

  • Make a list of all possible exits from your home.
  • Locate two exits from each bedroom. Use a window as an alternate exit, but make sure the window can be operated easily. If it’s painted shut or blocked by a permanent screen, it's not an exit.
  • Draw a floor plan of your home. Every room, all levels.
  • Include all windows and doors, as well as outdoor features, such as trees, shrubs and driveway.
  • Indicate primary (doors) and secondary (windows) exits from each room on the floor plan.
  • Choose a designated meeting spot outside your house and mark it on the map. Try to choose a spot in the front yard, since the fire department usually arrives at the front of the house.
  • Locate a fire alarm box, if one’s available, or designate a family member who'll go to a neighbor’s house to call the fire department.

Family discussion

Go over the escape plan with each family member. Make sure it’s completely understood, especially by the children. Train them to follow the plan.

Now, walk through the plan. Locate the escape routes in each room. This is a good way to double check your map for errors, too.

Also, have the entire plan checked by your local fire department. You can usually have this done in your home, while the fire department representative makes a simple, free fire safety check. Give them a call. Your kids will enjoy the visit and remember the information.

Time for a test

Now that you’ve established your escape plan and had it checked, test it out. Stage a fire drill. Make the drill realistic, without rushing through it. You’re trying to make sure everyone knows what to do, not see who finishes first.

Hold a fire drill at least once every six months. Vary the location of the “fire,” so you’ll have to practice using both primary and secondary exits. Change your plan, as your needs change. An escape route that seemed impossible to a child six months ago, may now be handled easily.

Fire protection equipment

Recognizing and correcting fire hazards and developing an escape plan is two-thirds of the job of protecting your family. The final step is to create a kit that contains the proper safety equipment.

Without this equipment, you may never be able to put your plan into action.

Assemble a kit

A complete kit isn’t on the market, yet. But, you can put one together yourself. Here’s what it should contain:

  • Smoke detectors. One is not enough. NFPA recommends one outside of each bedroom, or sleeping area. Each level of the house should have a smoke detector. Other areas where a smoke detector should be considered are a workshop, living room, dining room and basement. Location is also important. NFPA recommends the following:
    1. Locate near sleeping areas.
    2. Install on the ceiling or high on a wall (The preferred location is the center of the ceiling, ceiling at the top of a stairway, or the highest point on a sloped ceiling. Wall mount should be 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling.
    3. Never locate in a comer, or “dead-air" space.
    4. Test the location before final installation. Every family member should be able to hear the alarm loud and clear.
  • Fire extinguishers. Again, you may need more than one. One should be located in the kitchen, the number one place for a fire to start. Another good area is the workshop. Learn the correct procedure for operating. by following the instructions on the extinguisher.
  • Flashlight. Keep the flashlight readily available, such as on a night stand. Check the batteries regularly or get a plug-in rechargeable flashlight.
  • Escape route. Review the escape routes at least every six months. Make changes if your needs change.
  • Safety ladder. If you live in a multi-level home, and your secondary escape route is an upper story window, an escape ladder is recommended. They’re designed to attach over the window sill and provide an exit via the window. A word of warning, if you’ve never climbed on one before, try it before you’d have to use it. It can be a little tricky.