Seven Tips for Fire Safety

It’s easy to think a house fire won’t happen to you. But don’t be fooled—house fires are more common than you’d think. All it takes is a spark, a flammable substance, and some oxygen to cause a tragedy. Don’t let yourself be caught unprepared—follow these safety tips to prevent fires in your home, and get out safely if one occurs.

Keep your fire alarms in working order. Make sure you have working fire alarms on every floor of the house—especially the kitchen and near your bedroom. You should change the batteries twice a year. Don’t ever turn off or remove your fire alarms for any reason. People most often do this when they’re cooking and creating a lot of smoke—that fire alarm can get annoying when it keeps going off while you’re trying to cook. Don’t smash the alarm with a broom handle, tempting as it is—don’t even turn it off. It’s easy to forget to turn it back on. Instead, open the windows and turn on the kitchen fan before you start cooking. It’s also best not to trust that your fire alarms work, even if they have fresh batteries—test them by lighting a match underneath.

Have a just-in-case plan. Make sure your kids know what to do if the fire alarm goes off. They should hold hands and stay together, and one parent should be in charge of leading them out to a safe place. They should know how to get in formation and follow orders, even when half asleep. They should understand that they cannot be allowed to stop to find their favorite toy or pet. Pick a prominent place safely away from the house—under a certain tree, by the swing-set, or at the end of the driveway, for example—where the family will meet in case of a fire alarm. You should keep a strong flashlight by your bed in case your power fails, as it often will during a fire. Rehearse your escape plan several times a year.

Know how to get out. If you’re upstairs and the fire gets to your stairway before you do, you could be in serious trouble—if you don’t have an escape plan. Be sure all your windows open easily, and keep some escape ladders in your upper floors. Make sure both spouses and older children know how to unfold, safely attach, and use the ladders. Practice escaping from any upper floors of the house a few times a year.

Keep fire extinguishers in the house. Most guides will suggest that you have one on each floor in your house, especially in the kitchen and in the basement near the furnace and water heater. Be sure that all your fire extinguishers will work for wood, chemical, and electrical fires—not all brands do. Make sure both spouses and all older children know how to use the fire extinguishers.

Remove obvious fuels. Keep dry leaves and other detritus at least thirty feet away from your home—they are very flammable. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, store the wood in a wood shed at least thirty feet from your house. If you have a wood shop, make sure sawdust is not allowed to build up—it’s extremely flammable and can ignite with enough force to blow a hole through a wall!

Get a fireproof safe. It’s extremely important never to run back into a burning building, for any reason—it could be a death sentence. If there’s something you really don’t want to lose—valuable documents or jewelry, for example—buy a fireproof safe or cabinet to keep it in. That way, you won’t worry about leaving something important inside the house, and you won’t be tempted to run back in—especially if the fire doesn’t look that bad yet. Even if it doesn’t look that bad, it can still kill you. Keeping your most important belongings in a fireproof safe or cabinet could save your life.

Do a routine fire safety check. There are a lot of little things you can do to lessen your risk of a fire. Never leave a candle burning when you leave a room. Check your electrical wires and extension cords for signs of wear—and never let them lie under rugs or furniture. Never leave anything that could catch fire near a heat source, like an oven, a radiator, or a portable heater. Regularly clean the lint from your dryer’s lint trap and tubing. Empty ashes from fireplaces, wood stoves, and ashtrays into a metal container, not a plastic garbage bin. Never smoke in bed.

You can protect yourself from fires just by making a few safety checks part of your routine, and being aware of fire safety in the home. Don’t be caught unawares—check in with your local fire station for their advice on how to fireproof your home, and follow these simple tips to make sure a fire never happens to you.