Could you survive a house fire?
According to the National Fire Protection Association, In 2015, there were 1,345,500 fires reported in the United States. These fires caused 3,280 civilian deaths, 15,700 civilian injuries, and $14.3 billion in property damage. http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fires-in-the-us
- 501,500 were structure fires, causing 2,685 civilian deaths, 13,000 civilian injuries, and $10.3 billion in property damage.
- 204,500 were vehicle fires, causing 500 civilian fire deaths, 1,875 civilian fire injuries, and $1.8 billion in property damage.
- 639,500 were outside and other fires, causing 95 civilian fire deaths, 825 civilian fire injuries, and $252 million in property damage.
- The 2015 U.S. fire loss clock a fire department responded to a fire every 23 seconds. One structure fire was reported every 63 seconds.
- One home structure fire was reported every 86 seconds.
- One civilian fire injury was reported every 34 minutes.
- One civilian fire death occurred every 2 hours and 40 minutes.
- One outside and other fire was reported every 52 seconds.
- One highway vehicle fire was reported every 3 minutes 1 seconds.
More than any other emergency situation you may encounter, a house fire is statistically the most likely to happen in most parts of the country. Even if your house is well protected, many homes are destroyed by proximity to forest fires, and if you live in an apartment all your safety measures may be for naught if the guy downstairs isn’t so careful.
Being prepared for a house fire just makes good sense.
It goes without saying that the number one rule is prevention.
- Teach your children that fire is a dangerous tool, not a toy. Fire is fascinating to small children, especially boys. (If I may be un-politically correct; the truth is the truth.) Show, don’t tell, children how dangerous fire can be.
- When possible, remain in the kitchen when you're cooking something, especially if it’s on top of the stove.
- Do not smoke in the house. Make sure you put out your cigarettes completely.
- Dispose of or have repaired any electric appliances or electronics with frayed wires or that indicate any malfunction.
- Avoid lighting candles unless they're directly in your line of vision. Do not leave a lighted candle in an empty room.
- Make a habit of double checking the stove and oven after use to ensure they’re completely turned off.
- Use a lighter instead of matches.
- Verify smoke detectors function and have good batteries. Change batteries twice yearly. Most people find the change from standard and daylight saving time is a good time to also check smoke and CO detector batteries. (Until we get rid of that useless law.) Alternately, the first day of spring and fall or other seasonal changes may help you to remember.
Fire can happen even with the best of preventive plans. To give you and your family the best chance of survival:
- Have an escape plan. Practice twice a year. Have two escape routes from each room of the house and ensure all family members are aware of them. If there are children or people with disabilities in the home, also make plans for their safety in a situation where seconds count.
- Practice escaping in the dark with eyes closed.
- Make sure windows can be easily opened and that screens can be quickly removed. Security bars should have quick release devices. Everyone in the family should know how to open all windows, remove screens, and remove security bars if there are any.
- Ensure each room above ground floor is equipped with an emergency ladder.
- Practice safety.
If you find yourself in this situation, the first priority is to get yourself and your family members out of the building. Do not take time to retrieve valuables. And sadly, your pets have to take a back seat to yourself and human family members. The basic rule of thumb in case of fire is, don’t do anything that does not immediately help to keep you and your family members alive—human family members first, animals only if their rescue doesn’t threaten human life.
To give yourself the best chance of getting out of a burning building, stay as low as possible. Smoke and the poisonous chemicals that may be mixed in rise with heat. And the difference between the temperature at the floor and ceiling of a room on fire can be several hundred degrees. If you’re in bed and awaken to a house fire, avoid the temptation to sit up. Stay as low as possible. Roll out of bed and assess the situation. Stay on the floor and crawl to the nearest exit. Crawling, having access to the air close to the floor, is better than standing and trying to run through smoke. Smoke inhalation causes people to become disoriented and can cause unconsciousness quickly and without warning. If you have to run through smoke, cover your nose and mouth with a shirt or rag, wet if possible, to filter out as much of the particulates in the smoke as possible.
Before opening a door, use the back of your hand to determine whether the door or door knob is hot. If you see smoke under the door, that path is blocked. Do not open the door or attempt exit through that path. If the door is cool and you don’t see smoke, open the door slowly and pass through if it looks clear. If you see fire when you open the door, immediately close it and block off all air passages to the room. If you can leave the room safely, close the door after you to contain the fire as much as possible.
If you cannot go through a door you will have to exit through a window. If you’re on a second floor or higher, your exit plan and emergency preparation will include a portable rope ladder to allow you to get close enough to the ground that you can avoid injury. If above first floor and a safe exit out the window is not possible, call for help. Get yourself to where someone will be able to see or hear you. Hang a sheet out the window if possible to alert rescue personnel that you are there. But, keep windows closed so air currents don’t draw the fire to your location. If you have to escape out a window, first make sure any doors to the room are closed to reduce the draft the fire can follow.
If you must escape from a second story window without a ladder, look for any way possible to lessen the distance to the ground. Hang from the window first to get your feet as close to the ground as possible. Look for a ledge on the building and use that to hang from before descending to the ground. Jump only as a last resort. Stay put as long as possible if you’re above the first floor.
If you can’t exit the room, close the door and cover all vents and cracks with cloth or tape to keep the smoke out as long as possible. If possible, after exiting a burning room close the door after you to keep the fire from spreading.
Know how to use a fire extinguisher and have distributed throughout the house. But before using a fire extinguisher, make sure you have called your emergency response number and that you have an escape route.
If your clothes catch fire stop, drop, and roll. Cover your face with your hands as you’re rolling.
Stay away from drapes, sheets, and table cloths. These can catch fire easily.
After exiting the building, check to see who else has escaped. Never re-enter a burning building and only re-enter the building if you are certain it is safe to do so. Tell rescue workers as soon as they arrive whether everyone is out and accounted for, or if someone may still be inside the structure.
Stay as far away from the building as possible—gas lines may explode and hazardous gases may be present in the air. Have fire drills, especially if you have children. Make sure they know what to do.
Numbers to call in case of emergency:
- United States: 911
- Australia: 000
- New Zealand: 111
- United Kingdom: 999 (112 from a mobile phone)
- All of Europe: 112
- Assess injuries. If any, inform first responders immediately.
To help you prepare for an emergency or disaster situation we've prepared this free Disaster and Emergency Preparedness guide. Click on the title to download it in Word and PDF formats.