It's amazing the number of people who are killed in fires each year. More often than not, it is because the homeowner (or usually the renter) would easily spend $6 for a pack of cigarettes but won't spend $20 for a smoke detector. Duh. Here's a few tips to keep you and yours fire safe:
- Have working smoke detectors. You should have one in each bedroom, and one in a central location in each level of your home. The best detector to get is one with a sealed, 10 year lithium battery with alarm memory and smart hush (or something similar). This is the best choice because you don't have to change the battery, the battery is sealed into the unit so the kids can't take it out to use in a game or toy (this battery wouldn't fit anyway), and it has a quick reset so you can temporarily shut it off when (in my case) the spouse cooks dinner.
- Have up-to-date, fully charged fire extinguishers in the kitchen and the garage. These are the two most common areas in the home for fires to start so having a quick way to extinguish a fire is a good option.
- Do a quick fire safety check each time you leave the house or go to bed. Unplug space heaters, blow out candles, check to make sure the stove is off, put matches/lighters/firestarters out of kids sight and reach, take a quick look into the garage--this takes all of two or three minutes and is more than worth the peace of mind it offers.
- Have an escape plan so the entire family knows two ways to exit each room in an emergency.
- Drill your escape plan often. Obviously, you may want to open the window in an upstairs room and drop the escape ladder but not actually have anyone crawl out of a second story window for safety's sake. It's important to have an escape rope or ladder for each upstairs bedroom if this is how an exit will be made from the room. With kids, you need to drill often as usually when they are afraid, their first instinct is to run to the parents room--in too many tragic fires, rescuers go into the child's room but can't find the kid. Later they find that the child died of smoke inhalation because they ended up hiding in the closet, under a bed, or in the parent's room out of fear and lack of knowledge about how to escape when the house is on fire.
- Practice stop, drop, and roll to put out a fire; practice crawling from the bed to the window; practice checking the bedroom door for heat then safely exiting down the hall, down the stairs, and out the door as a first option; and practice crawling from the bed to the window blindfolded as when a house is on fire it looks like a big black curtain of smoke hanging from the ceiling and you often can't see more than a few inches in front of your face.
- Have a central meeting place outside of your home and have the entire family practice meeting there. This is the quickest way to muster the family and see if anyone is missing. Insist that everyone meet at this location first instead of taking shelter in a neighbor's house so that everyone can be accounted for.
- Have the following items in each room for the escape: a pair of leather work gloves for each person in the room, a pair of shoes for each person in the room (in our case there are no shoes in the house so having a pair under the bed in case an escape is necessary is critical), a flashlight, a way to exit the window in special circumstances (ie: if the window is painted shut you may need a hammer to break the glass, if there are bars on the window be sure there is a way to quickly open them from the inside).
- Other fire safety considerations: clean the chimney regularly, service the heating system regularly, use a firesafe can for the disposal of cigarettes or to store oil-soaked rags, use care when outdoor burning, never start a burn pile or barbecue with gasoline, keep the area around your home free of flammable materials (ie: keep the grass cut and watered and have the wood pile located away from your house), make sure you home is visible and accessible to the fire department, and if you are building a new home consider having a fire sprinkler system installed.