Preventing a fire in your home could save your life and the lives of others, so learning and practicing regular fire safety rules is always essential. Far fewer people die in home fires today than a few decades ago, but fires at home remain the third leading cause of death for kids age 14 and younger. If you’re wondering what to do when there is a fire at home, rule number one is to get out! Get low to avoid breathing smoke, get out of there, and call 911 when you are far enough away to do so safely. For additional fire safety tips, including more fire prevention information, please read on.
Having a fire escape plan is perhaps the most crucial aspect of being prepared to survive a potential fire disaster in your home, but having a plan isn’t enough. Practicing your plan regularly with your entire family so everyone knows exactly what to do and where to go in a fire emergency is crucial. Practice drills regularly in the middle of the night, including crawling with eyes closed and shirts or bandannas covering mouths and noses. Practice the “stop, drop and roll” technique for extinguishing yourself if you have the misfortune to catch on fire. Practice testing door handles before using them. Make sure the kids know all these techniques. By the time your alarm sounds, you might have as little as a minute or two to escape. Always have two escape routes from each room, and make sure windows and doors are functional from the inside. Avoid elevators, and plan a meetup location a safe distance away from the home in case your family is separated.
Smoke alarms and sprinklers
Three of five deaths due to home fires occur in homes that lack functional smoke alarms. Smoke alarms should be on every floor of your home, ideally synchronized so that if one alarm sounds, all of them sound. Make sure there’s a smoke alarm in every bedroom. Test them monthly and replace batteries regularly. Replace the entire unit every decade, even if it appears functional. Smoke alarms should be kept outside the kitchen, at least 10 feet from the stove, to prevent false alarms. Special alarms with strobe lights and even bed-shaking devices are necessary for deaf people or those who are difficult to wake. Carbon-monoxide alarms are also important, but it’s essential to know the difference and be able to tell which is going off based on the sound the alarm makes. Sprinklers are a critical safety addition to your home, especially if you are building a new home or remodeling.
Make sure you have a selection of appropriate fire extinguishers in your home, and remember that not all fire extinguishers are effective on every fire. Some models are designed for grease or chemical fires, for example. Make sure you also have multipurpose extinguishers on hand, in sizes large enough to be helpful when you need them but not too heavy to manage. Make sure you understand how to use your fire extinguisher, and if you don’t feel comfortable with it, get help with training at your local fire department. If you’re not comfortable using your extinguisher when a fire occurs, forget it. Get out of your home, call 911 from a safe distance, and let the professionals take it from there. If you’re in a fire situation and preparing to use an extinguisher, remember to make sure everyone has left the home, the fire department has been called, the fire is small, and your back is to an exit. At this point, remember the PASS acronym:
- Pull the pin.
- Aim low, toward the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the handle slowly.
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
Cooking and heating
The two most common causes of fires in the home are cooking and heating, especially during winter months, when fire-related deaths spike. Make sure to keep anything potentially flammable at least 3 feet from a stove, space heater or fireplace. If you’re sleepy or even slightly intoxicated, stick to the microwave and avoid the stove. When sauteing, frying, simmering, grilling, baking, broiling or roasting, use timers and never leave anything unattended. Stay in the kitchen, limit your distractions, and keep a close eye on all heat sources.
Space heaters need to be placed on tile floors, away from rugs or carpets. Teach children to steer clear of them, and only models with an automatic shutoff safety feature (in case the heater is knocked over) should be considered for purchase. As with your stove, always turn off space heaters and extinguish all fireplace embers before leaving the room or going to sleep. Burn only seasoned, dry firewood in your fireplace and never leave it unattended.
Smokers and paraphernalia
If you’re serious about fire safety, just go ahead and ban smoking inside your home — and we mean no smoking of anything. If you want to allow smoking, make a hard-and-fast rule that it can only be done outside your home safely. Make sure you provide deep, solid ashtrays and insist smokers remain far from any flammable materials. While you’re at it, one of the most important fire tips for children is to teach them not to touch matches, lighters, lighter fluid or any other related materials. Store them in locked cabinets and ensure they are inaccessible to kids.
Recommending flameless candles to someone who loves real candles is like suggesting to a scuba diver that snorkeling is just as good, but using candles in your home is literally playing with fire. If you must light candles in your home, you must also take some serious steps to be safe. Keep them at least a foot away from anything flammable, watch them carefully, and blow them out before you leave the room or call it a night.
Make sure to unplug small appliances like toasters, blenders or slow cookers when they’re not in use. Inspect all electrical cords for signs of damage, and replace any that are frayed or cracked. If you notice any loose connections, bare wires or broken plugs, replace these too.
We hope our fire safety tips were helpful to you. If you’re interested in reading more useful articles about your home, check out our new homeowner checklist or our post on how to clean and maintain your washer and dryer. While you’re at it, read more on topics like how to sense when there’s big trouble brewing in your home or review our guide to common oven repairs.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.