Two words you never want to hear regarding your home. "House fire." My best friend suffered a total loss from a house fire a few years ago, so I have seen just how absolutely devastating they can be. In her own words, she says, "None of us are in total control. You think all you have to do are the 'right' things and a house fire won't happen to you, but that's just not true. It can happen to anyone." One thing I witnessed her going through was victim blaming; other people assuming that if her house caught on fire, it must've been her fault somehow. If you take nothing else away from this blog post, please know that house fires do not just happen to unprepared, irresponsible people. They happen every day to normal, well prepared people and one can happen to you.
The President has proclaimed this week National Fire Prevention Week, which will help get the word out about being prepared for a fire in your home. According to his proclamation, this week "we strive to increase our preparedness for fires and commit to giving dedicated firefighters the support they need to keep us safe" (The White House, 2016). Obviously we strive for no unintentional fires to occur in your home, but since a home fire was reported every 86 seconds in 2015, let's assume one could happen in your home ("Fires in the U.S.," n.d.). The main focus of this post is to make sure your family is safe and knows what to do in case a fire occurs. Below are five in-depth tips about preparing yourself, your family, and your home.
1) Check your smoke detector batteries...and its date.
While you have likely heard that you should regularly check the batteries in your smoke detectors, did you know that you actually need to replace your smoke detector every 10 years? This is the third consecutive year that the National Fire Protection Association is getting the word out about replacing out-of-date detectors since many people aren't aware that their useful life has an expiration date. The date of manufacture can be found on the back of the alarm and should not show a date of more than 10 years ago. If it does, you need to get a replacement. To learn more about the National Fire Protection Association's "Don't Wait – Check the Date!" campaign, visit their website by clicking here.
Having working smoke detectors won't prevent a fire, but they are your greatest asset in giving you time to either A) address the fire if it's a small one or B) get everyone out of the house if it's a major one. Now let's address those two situations separately.
2) If there is a small fire that you could handle, you're likely going to need a fire extinguisher to put it out.
Here's the thing I learned the hard way though: traditional fire extinguishers aren't all that easy to operate. In college, I was boiling water when the electric coil on the stove started smoking and suddenly burst into flames. Now, we did have a small fire extinguisher in the kitchen, but the moment I needed it, I realized I didn't know how to use it. So there I stood, with flames shooting up from the stove, and I had to waste valuable response time by reading the instructions on the fire extinguisher for the first time. Be smarter than I was and read the instructions when it's not an emergency so you actually know how to use your extinguisher. In addition to having to read the instructions, neither myself nor my roommate could pull the pin out of the extinguisher to get it working. I am not kidding. That pin was so difficult to pull out, that neither one of us could do it! I am now a big fan of the spray fire extinguishers, like this one. I feel like I must say I am not endorsing this particular brand of fire extinguisher, just the no-pin attribute of the product and other products like it (for weaklings like me, at least). Whichever fire extinguisher you choose, I do recommend that you buy two of them and have all of your family members operate one in your yard as "practice." That way, even if you aren't home at the time, other members of your family will know exactly what to do if a fire occurs.
3) If you already have a fire extinguisher and know exactly how to use it, check the expiration date on it.
Yep, according to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, fire extinguishers can (and do!) expire for a variety of different reasons (Gromicko, N. & Shepard, K., n.d.). Make sure yours is still in good working order and not out-of-date. For much more information on inspecting your fire extinguisher, click here to be taken to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors' article "Fire Extinguisher Maintenance and Inspection."
4) Make sure everyone in your household knows established escape routes and where to meet up outside if an emergency exit becomes necessary.
If your house fire is too big to be addressed by you, the first thing you're going to think about is getting everyone out of the house. Depending on where the fire is though, someone might have to go out a window or through a different door than you. For this reason, it's important to have established escape routes for every room of your house. You will also need an agreed upon meeting place outside of your home in case a house fire does require an evacuation. Pick a specific place that is safely distant from your home, such as a neighbor's house or mailbox. You do not want to be worrying that a family member is still inside the house when they are actually outside, but just in a different spot than you.
5) Practice, practice, practice.
Don't wait until an emergency happens to think about all of these things. I can guarantee that you will be overwhelmed and not thinking rationally if a fire does occur. That's why you need to practice, practice, practice. Have fire drills with your kids once or twice a year. Remember that you might have to crawl on the floor due to the amount of smoke in the house, so practice that with them. Make sure your kids know how to open bedroom windows and are actually strong enough to do so by themselves. Repeat your meeting place to all family members and practice getting there from different areas of the house. If you have an infant or someone with a disability in your home, make sure someone is responsible for getting them out of the house as well. The more you practice, the easier it will be to remember all of these tips while under extreme duress.
For even more tips about fire evacuation, visit the "Basic Fire Escape Planning" page of the National Fire Protection Association here.
Basic Fire Escape Planning. Retrieved from http://www.nfpa.org/public-education/by-topic/safety-in-the-home/escape-planning/basic-fire-escape-planning
Fires in the U.S. Retrieved from http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fires-in-the-us
Gromicko, N. & Shepard, K. Fire Extinguisher Maintenance and Inspection. Retrieved from https://www.nachi.org/fire-extinguisher-maintenance-inspection.htm
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (2016). Fire Prevention Week, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/10/07/presidential-proclamation-fire-prevention-week-2016