Fire Safety Tips
By Dana Sullivan
The statistics about the death of children in home fires are grim:
more than 1,000 children age 9 and under die each year (that's nearly
three children every day). Most home fires are preventable and, with
proper planning, a fire needn't end in tragedy.
To safeguard your family, practice the following recommendations from the National Fire Protection Association.
Prevention is the Best Protection
Each year, children who play with matches or lighters start about
100,000 fires. To prevent disaster, lock matches and lighters in an
out-of-reach cabinet and never leave youngsters unsupervised around
In the kitchen:
- Don't leave anything unattended: on a flame (on the stovetop), in a microwave, toaster, or toaster oven.
- Keep the stovetop clear of ignitable items such as dishtowels, potholders, and wooden spoons.
- Keep a large oven mitt and lid within reach to cover small pan fires.
- Clean appliances thoroughly after cooking. Grease buildup ignites easily.
- Teach children to stay three feet away from the stove when you're cooking.
- Keep pot handles turned in and out of reach of groping hands.
Throughout the house:
- If you smoke, don't leave cigarette butts in the ashtray. Throw them down the toilet.
- Don't smoke in bed. When you're sleepy you may accidentally leave a smoldering cigarette to ignite bedding.
- Use only one heat-producing appliance per electrical outlet.
- Make sure electrical cords aren't frayed or worn. Even if
cords are in perfect condition, don't run them under rugs or behind
- Keep portable or space heaters at least three feet away from
furniture, curtains, and bedding; turn them off before you go to sleep
and whenever you leave the house.
- Never place combustibles such as newspapers, magazines, or
kindling near fireplaces, heaters, or radiators; and never use these
heating devices to dry clothes.
- Unplug electrical appliances when not in use.
The Well-Equipped Home
Smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and escape ladders are essential
to a fire safety plan. A working smoke detector on every level of your
home cuts your risk of dying in a fire nearly in half. For a fire alert
- Replace the batteries in each smoke detector once a year.
- Test the batteries in every smoke detector once a month.
Batteries are low when a detector "chirps," and they should be replaced
- Replace smoke detectors every ten years.
- Place a fire extinguisher on each level of your home. The best
models for home use are rated "2-A:10-B:C" because they are safe to use
on any fire.
- Read the extinguisher's directions, before a fire breaks out,
to understand how to use it. Use it only on your way out the door when
you are six to eight feet away from the flames and within clear reach
of an exit.
- Most portable extinguishers only "blast" for about eight to ten seconds, and are ineffective on large or spreading fires.
- Ask your local fire department how to properly use fire
extinguishers. Or, rally a group of neighbors and tell the manager at
your local hardware store that your group will buy multiple
extinguishers if he arranges to have the manufacturer send a
representative to give a tutorial.
- Supply all upper level bedrooms with an escape ladder. Show
children where the ladders are kept, how to attach them to the windows,
and how to use them. Demonstrate how to back out of the window and go
down the ladder feet first. The National Fire Protection Association
doesn't recommend actually climbing down the ladder during fire drills
because of the risk of falling.
Have an Escape Plan
If your family doesn't have a fire escape plan, make one today. Teach
your children that if there's a fire, they need to get out of the home,
and stay out until firefighters say it's okay to go back inside.
Children as young as three years old can follow a well-rehearsed plan
but adults should be responsible for escorting younger children out of
the home. And be sure to have a back-up strategy in case one parent
travels frequently. Here are some guidelines:
- Teach children what a smoke detector sounds like and emphasize that
whenever they hear the alarm they should go outside immediately.
- Make sure that the home's exits are unobstructed by toys and debris.
- Draw a basic diagram of your home, marking all windows and
doors, and plan two routes out of each room. The first should be the
door. The second will probably be a window if bedrooms are on the
second or third floors.
- Practice crawling low during drills in case your home is filled with smoke during a real fire.
- Check all windows to make sure they open easily. Metal
security bars on windows or doors should have quick-release mechanisms
that everyone knows how to operate. Replace double-key deadbolts with
locks that can be opened from the inside without a key.
- If you live in a high-rise building, always use the stairway
marked "Fire Exit" to practice your escape (and to leave during a real
- Show children how to cover their nose and mouth with a T-shirt or pajama top to reduce smoke inhalation.
- Explain that before opening a door, it should be felt for
heat. If the door is warm, everyone should exit via the alternate
- Coach children to stand by the window and signal for help if
they are unable to escape on their own. Remind them never to hide in a
closet or under a bed.
- Teach the stop, drop, and roll technique. After escaping from
a burning building, anyone whose clothes are on fire should stop, drop
to the ground, and roll over and over until the flames are out.
- Designate an outdoor meeting place, such as a neighbor's
mailbox or tree that is well away from your home. Tell your children
that when they leave the burning building, they should go directly to
that spot. Also, stress that they should never go back into the home to
retrieve a forgotten toy or pet.
- Practice the escape plan every six months. At least one drill
should occur in the middle of the night because the majority of
home-fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- Inform caregivers about the escape route, and encourage
grandparents to create and practice an escape plan that your family can
rely on during a visit.