Next, let’s talk about fire drills and escape plans. If it’s 3 AM, and your smoke detector goes off, will you know what to do? Will the rest of your family know what to do? When a fire starts, experts say you’ve got one to two minutes to get out of the house to safety. Could you and all of your family do that? Especially considering that the house is likely to be filled with thick, black, unbearable smoke? Most deaths in fires aren’t from the flames, but from smoke inhalation.
Would every one of you be able to think clearly and quickly, and figure out the best course of action for themselves? It’s very unlikely. Everyone is likely to be panicking and screaming and wondering what to do, unless you’ve prepared your family well ahead of time for this situation. They’re going to be screaming and panicking anyway, but if you’ve planned for what to do in a fire, they won’t have to improvise and start thinking for themselves. They can just do what you’ve practiced. Having an escape plan is a fundamental part of home fire safety. So are regular fire drills. They can mean the difference between life and death. Creating an escape plan is the first step. Every room should have two possible exits, the door to the hallway, and a window. If the house is on fire, and the room is on the first floor, the window should be the first choice, unless the fire is coming from that area. Before attempting to exit through the door, a person should first touch it.
If it’s hot, do not open it, as it means the fire is right outside the door. Try to exit through the window. If that’s impossible, wait for help, but do not open the door. If it’s not hot, open it slowly, and if you see flames, shut it immediately and either go out the window or wait for help. Incidentally, this is a good reason to always sleep with the bedroom door tightly shut-it can take flames up to 15 minutes to burn through a door, giving you precious time to escape or be rescued. Every upstairs bedroom should have a fire escape ladder kept near the window, and a flashlight to signal for help. Make sure all windows are able to be easily opened from the inside. Firefighters advise that you shouldn’t jump from a second story window, but hanging and dropping from the ledge can be a good idea. You’re unlikely to be critically injured, although you may break an ankle or leg. Anyone who can’t escape through a window should get down as low as possible if escaping through the house – that’s where the freshest air will be. Have a meeting place designated, such as the end of the driveway, or the mailbox, and everyone should go there immediately to be accounted for. No one should ever go back into a burning house to try to rescue someone.
Once you’ve got your plan, explain the escape routes to your family, and exactly what they should do in case of fire. And then practice it on a regular basis, at least once or twice a year. Some of the drills should be scheduled, daylight drills. Others should be surprise drills at night when people are sleeping, because that’s when the vast majority of fatal house fires occur. You can’t be too prepared for a fire. Have an escape plan, teach it to your family, and then practice it regularly. These are vital weapons in your home fire safety arsenal.
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