Fires can start in seconds and engulf entire buildings within minutes. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are nearly 400,000 residential fires reported in the country each year. They can start from a variety of causes, like cooking, heating/electrical malfunctions, or simple carelessness. A person could only have minutes to escape to safety, so it’s essential to know what to do in case of a fire. With the proper knowledge and prevention, you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
What to Do in Case of a Fire
In the event of a house fire, you may only have seconds to act. Fires are unpredictable and extremely dangerous, so knowing what do in case of a fire could save not only your life, but the lives of your loved ones. We will provide you with some in-depth information that will ensure you know what to do in case of a fire. The most important thing to remember however, can be stated perfectly (and simply) by the American Red Cross: “GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL FOR HELP.”
Learn How to Work a Fire Extinguisher
If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, go get one. For smaller fires, these tools can be extremely effective. You should familiarize yourself with how to work one and remember that they should only be used on small fires that have not spread.
Fire extinguishers should be used on contained fires, and it is important to read all of the instructions and warnings. Certain types of extinguishers may only be designed for specific materials. Using the fire extinguisher is easy enough, if you remember the P.A.S.S. method. You perform the P.A.S.S. method by:
- Pulling the pin.
- Aiming the nozzle at the base of the fire (from a safe distance).
- Squeezing the lever (to release the extinguishing material).
- Sweeping the nozzle from side-to-side until the entire fire is extinguished.
When fires cannot be extinguished easily, it is important not to take any risks. You should get yourself and other family members out as soon as possible. This is when practicing your escape plan comes in handy, because each member of the family should find their nearest, and safest exit point. Getting out safely can be easier with practice, but fires can make factors change in an instant.
Having an exit strategy means nothing if you cannot get there safely. In the event of a fire, remember to follow these safety tips.
- Move quickly but safely. If there is smoke, you should always crawl on your hand and knees. Smoke rises first along the ceiling, so you’ll want to crawl quickly to any exit.
- Test doors and doorknobs. Before you open any door, you should check the doorknob first. Carefully use the back of your hand or clothing to see if the doorknob is hot. If the door or doorknob is hot, or you see smoke coming from the other side, use a secondary exit. If you do open a door, do so slowly.
- Get out. If you can reach members of the family or pets without risking your safety, do it quickly and get out. Once you have reached the outside, never go back in. Take a headcount and alert firefighters of any missing people or pets.
- Call for help. Once you are safely outside, call 9-1-1 for help. You should also enlist the help of neighbors if possible.
When You Can’t Escape
In the event that you cannot escape a room safely, this is when your prior preparation could save your life. It is absolutely essential that every person in the family (including children) know what to do in case of a fire that leaves them left in the house. Even children should be able to escape or follow the plan.
- Ensure children know not to be scared of firefighters. Let them know how they are dressed, what they do, and that they are there to keep them safe. No one should ever hide from a firefighter.
- Close door(s) to the room you stuck in and cover any vents, cracks, or holes surrounding the door. You can use cloth, tape, or anything you can find around the room. This will help keep the smoke from entering the room. Remember to stay low to the floor while you do this.
- Use a window, phone, or even just your voice to call 9-1-1, and alert everyone where you are in the house. You can signal firefighters using clothing, a flashlight, or by yelling.
- Have a backup plan, especially for rooms that are not on the first level. Rooms not on the first floor should have access to fire ladders, etc.
- STOP, DROP, AND ROLL. If yourself or your clothing ever catch on fire, remember to stop where you are, drop to the floor, and repeatedly roll until the fire is extinguished.
Preventing a Fire
Now that you know what to do in case of fire, you should also get the basics on how to prevent a fire from happening in the first place. Simple behaviors, actions, and tips like the ones you’ll find below can help prevent a fire that could cause property damage, personal injury, and even death.
Ensure You Have Working Smoke Alarms
In your home, there should be at least one smoke alarm on every level of the house. They should be installed inside and outside of areas where people sleep. FEMA recommends testing batteries monthly, replacing batteries at least once a year, and replacing the alarm every 8-10 years. Smoke alarms can alert yourself and your family of a possible fire and save lives. There are even smoke alarms designed for people with access or functional needs.
Make (and Practice) a Fire Escape Plan
Fire drills shouldn’t just occur in schools. You should make plans for escaping the house, and every member of the family should be included. If a fire does happen, you’ll only have seconds to act. Your plan should involve getting yourself and other members out as quickly as possible.
A fire escape plan should involve multiple exits. Every member of the household should have knowledge of multiple exit strategies for every room. Things don’t go as planned during an emergency, so it is important to have multiple escape paths. Always ensure you think of and create multiple routes for escaping every level of the home.
Every member of the household should know what to do in case of a fire. This means that your escape plans should be practiced. Practicing the escape plan helps avoid panic and plan for possible contingencies. It is recommended that every member of the household practices (and changes, when necessary) these plans twice a year.
- Sleep with bedroom doors closed. This can keep fires contained if they do start. The fire receives less oxygen when the doors are closed and it can give you a safer exit path.
- Do not leave unnecessary devices plugged in.
- Perform regularly scheduled maintenance on heating/electrical elements in your home.
The Bottom Line
Fires are unpredictable and dangerous, but you can still prepare for them. With proper prevention, education, and action, fires don’t have to be life-threatening. Fires can affect anyone, anywhere, anytime. They do not discriminate or show mercy. Knowing what to do in case of a fire can save your life, as well as the lives of everyone in your household.