No one wants to think about having a fire in their home. You don’t want to have to even think about what you would do if a fire broke out happened while you were at home or even while you weren’t home, but it’s something you and your family definitely need to plan for.
Everyone in your household should know what to do if the smoke alarms sound and they also need to know how to get to safety. After all, that should be the number one goal for each member of your family—getting themselves out.
Most fires that aren’t caused by something in the kitchen occur at night, which means each member of your family members would likely be in their own bedroom and would be woken up by the sound of the fire alarms.
First, make a floor plan and take each of the family members into the rooms and show them what they should do if that smoke alarm goes off. Maybe your child on the second floor needs to climb out the window as an escape route.
Maybe the one on the first floor just needs to break the window. Walk them through any process of how to open the windows or even just how to break them and get out. Make sure they also know what to do once they’ve got out of the house.
Get the Tools
If you have children or even adults living on the second floor or higher of your house they need tools to help them get out. While dropping from a second story window is still a better idea than staying in the house during a fire, it’s not something that you want them to have to do.
That’s why many companies have ladders available that you can easily store away in a box or cupboard but use to climb out the window as an escape route in case of an emergency.
These escape ladders are generally lightweight and you can put them directly under the window so all the child has to do is open the window and toss one end outside. The other end is secured inside and they can climb down and to safety.
If you have children or adults sleeping in the basement of your home there are rules for what you need to do to keep them safe. One of those things is to have an egress window that allows them direct access outside the house without having to go up the stairs the way they normally would.
These windows are designed to be larger than a standard window and to open more fully, making it simple for them to climb out of the basement and get outside quickly in case of an emergency.
Set a Meeting Place
Make sure your family has a meeting place once you exit the house. You never want to get away from a burning building and not know if all of your family members are safe.
By having one meeting place that everyone has to get to you will know if someone isn’t there and you’ll be able to tell the fire department or other first responders right away who is missing and where they might be.
The best thing you can do to prepare your family for an emergency is to have practice drills. Let them know that you’re doing a practice drill so no one breaks the windows trying to get out, but make sure that they treat it like there really is a fire.
See how fast they can get out of their bed, to the window, open it and get to the meeting place. Practice until everyone feels comfortable with the process and feels like they could get out even if it’s the middle of the night.
It’s important to consider other situations however as well. Make sure that if you do have higher floors each of your children knows how to use the ladder to get out and each of them knows how to use the egress window as well.
If your children are playing in the basement or upstairs or having sleepovers or anything else you don’t want to be worried about whether the one child who knows how to operate the egress window is there or that the one who knows how to use the ladder is there.
You want everyone to be comfortable with the tools they need to get to safety. The most important thing is teaching your children to recognize and respond to the smoke detectors in your house by instinct. They shouldn’t have to think about it or second guess anything.
They should be able to immediately hear it and do what they need to do in order to get themselves to safety. Remember, you should not task your child or anyone else with more than getting themselves to safety. That’s something that you or your partner may be responsible for and it’s something you may need to practice.
Getting to Small Children
If you have very small children it may be difficult or even impossible to teach them how to get out on their own. Infants and toddlers need someone to help them and even some slightly older children may not be able to get out on their own easily.
Children or adults who have special needs may need assistance as well. It’s important that you or your partner are designated to help specific members of the family in the event of a fire. That way, you need to know where you’re going and what you’re doing. When there’s a fire, every second count for your family.
If you know to go down the hall to your daughter’s room first and your partner knows to go down the opposite hall to get grandma you’ll be better prepared and you can both make sure that you’re keeping yourselves and the rest of the family safe, but it’s something that you need to practice and prepare for as well.
Practice getting out of your room quickly and to whatever room you need and then getting your loved ones out. It’s going to take some practice and some effort.
In the Moment
Keep in mind that when a fire actually happens it can take everyone by surprise. No matter how much you practice and work to make your children do what they need to do by instinct, it can be difficult to really prepare them for the terror that comes with a real fire.
Enough practice can help them to react on instinct, but it’s also possible that they could freeze up, the fire could start closer to them than you think, or there could be entrances and exits blocked.
That’s why you want to make sure everyone in the house is using the most direct way out of wherever they are. Each bedroom in your home and even most of the other rooms has its own windows and that should be the first choice if there is a fire, but if for any reason they can’t get out through that window, it’s important to teach your children what they need to do in case they have to go through the house in order to search for a different way out.
Basic Fire Tips
The first thing everyone needs to remember is to stay low. In most instances, it’s the smoke that causes problems for people first and the smoke tends to rise to fill the space. That means the floor is the safest place for you to be when you’re trying to get out. Always teach your children to crawl as close to the floor as they possibly can.
Next, make sure to check any doors for heat before they open them. It’s important to always use the back of your hand to check a door because it’s less susceptible to the heat. The palm of your hand could stick to the door or handle if you use it and the handle is too hot.
The back of your hand is a little less sensitive and you can pull it away if the door feels hot. Make sure everyone knows not to open a door that feels hot. The fire may be on the other side and if they open the door it can allow oxygen to flow into the fire, which could result in the fire spreading even more.
Tell your children to listen for help at all times while they’re trying to get out of the fire. They should try to listen to a first responder calling out to them and make sure they know to always respond.
Children can sometimes be frightened by the reality of a fire and they tend to hide and stay quiet even when they know that they shouldn’t because of that fear. If they hear a first responder, however, you want them to respond so that they can get out as quickly as possible.
Protecting your home from a fire is important, but protecting your family is even more important. Having an escape plan in place is always going to be crucial to getting them out safely and making sure your losses are only material things.