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Home Escape Planning and Practicing May Help Save Your Family

August 15, 2011

In Washington State, most structure fires occur after dark.  In Fire District 9 most structure fires occur in residences.  Based on these statistics, you can surmise that if your family experiences a fire, you will probably be at home in bed when it happens.

These facts form the foundations of what we teach elementary school kids.  We push the idea of building an escape plan and then practicing it so it’s second nature when the emergency strikes.

So the plan begins with you in bed asleep.  Your first line of defense while you sleep is smoke detectors.  If you don’t have smoke detectors, get them.  If they’re not working, fix them, and keep the batteries up to date.  The bottom line is that without smoke detectors to awaken you when a fire is most likely to occur, you’re probably not going to make it.

Upon being awakened by a smoke detector, your first instinct will be to get up.  But up is not where you want to be.  Smoke from a fire tends to fill a room from the top down.  Breathing that smoke is a mistake.  The majority of fire fatality victims never see the flames.  It’s the smoke that gets most people.  So when you’re awakened by smoke detectors, get out of bed and get down low where the good air is.

Next we want you to get out of the house.  Using the door is always easiest but if there is fire blocking that route, you’ll need an alternate route.  Always have two ways out of each bedroom to ensure everyone gets out safely.  This is where accessible egress windows pay off.  We advocate sleeping with doors closed at night.  That compartmentalizes your home and slows down the spread of fire and smoke, buying you more time.  With doors closed you don’t know what is behind them.  So you feel the door with the back of your hand reaching as far up the door as you can.  If the door feels warm or hot, don’t open it.  Use your secondary exit route.  If the door is cool to the touch, open it up and if there is no smoke, use that route to get out.

Once you’re outside, you’re still not done.  Now everyone has to go to a meeting place.  That meeting place can be anywhere that is a safe distance from the house.  What is important is that everyone in the house knows where that place is, and everyone goes to it.  That’s how you know if everyone got out.  When we show up with trucks you can report to us on the status of occupants.  If there is no pre-assigned meeting place, you have no way to tell who is out and who is not out.

The above outline makes a pretty good plan.  Get your kids involved in building your plan.  The more they’re involved, the more it will be remembered when it’s needed.  Then it needs to be practiced so you know it will work when the time comes.  Elementary school kids love practicing this.  When they get good at it, try it with the lights out.  Periodically, run drills to ensure everyone remembers the plan.  It will surprise you how much of this plan your kids will remember when the time comes.

Having a plan and practicing it will dramatically increase the likelihood that your family will get out of a house fire alive.  If you’ve got questions about a home exit plan, you can call me at 509-466-4602, or e-mail me at dbleeker@scfd9.org or you can leave a comment on this blog.

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