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Prevent A Big Disaster Threat-House Fires
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Simple Steps Can Help Reduce Your Risk
Amanda M. Christopher
October 6, 2009

The biggest disaster threat to families across our nation every day isn't floods, hurricanes or tornadoes, it's fire. Last year, the American Red Cross responded to more than 63,000 fires. That's about 170 responses a dayone every eight minutes.

October is Fire Safety Month and the American Red Cross is encouraging people to take steps to minimize the risk of home fires by remembering two key fire safety tips: install a smoke alarm and develop a fire escape plan.

Fires Can Strike Suddenly and Spread Quickly

Like many Americans, Rebecca Wagner of Kansas never thought that she'd experience a home fire – until she did. She and her husband lost everything in a house fire when she was 8 months pregnant. 

"We were living in an apartment and trying to budget because I was pregnant. We didn't think about anything like renter's insurance at the time, which we now know was affordable. Instead we lost everything– including clothes, furniture, baby supplies," reflects Wagner.

Rebecca and her husband had smoke alarms and changed the battery regularly but had otherwise never thought about fire prevention, such as developing an escape plan, prior to the fire.

"You never think it will happen to you. We had no fire extinguishers or escape routes; we now go over them religiously," said Wagner.

After the fire, the Red Cross helped the Wagners through the recovery phase.

"The Red Cross was a tremendous help when we had only the clothes on our backs," said Wagner. "They were able to help us get clothes, toiletries, and even offered to help find us place to stay while we got back on our feet.  As a way to say thanks, my husband and I have been regular blood donors ever since."

Denise Bruneau is an American Red Cross volunteer with the Milwaukee Chapter and no stranger to home fires from both perspectives.

Bruneau's home was severely damaged when a fire started in the attic rafters during the middle of the night. Everyone escaped from the house safely and it wasn't until Red Cross volunteers showed up to help that Bruneau realized the severity of her situation. At that moment Bruneau recognized the important role of the Red Cross and knew she had to be part of it. She has been a volunteer ever since helping to aid victims of fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes among many other situations.

Bruneau offers several words of advice when it comes to home fires. "It was the smoke detector that actually saved my life. Everybody should have one," stresses Bruneau. "Have pets in the evacuation plan. When you practice your escape plan, also practice taking your pets with you."

During a Fire, Every Second Counts

Home fires can start quickly and without warning, devastating lives and property.  But while home fires are a serious concern, the good news is that people can take steps to reduce their risk.  

Make sure you have a smoke alarm on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test your smoke alarm once a month by pushing the test button, and replace the batteries at least once a year. Also, create an escape plan. Home fire escape plans should include at least two ways to escape from every room of your home. Make sure to select a meeting spot a safe distance from your home where family members can meet after escaping. After discussing your plan with all members of your household, practice the plan twice a year.

The Red Cross also recommends other simple steps to help prevent fires:

  • Keep all sources of fuel (paper, clothing, bedding, and carpets or rugs) at least three feet away from all heat sources when cooking, or using alternative heating like a space heater.
  • Don't leave the kitchen while you're frying, grilling or broiling food, and don't leave home if you're simmering, baking, boiling or roasting food.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from and out of reach of children.

Red Cross chapters nationwide depend on the generous support of financial donors to respond to their community members who are affected by home fires. You can find additional safety information or make a donation to help your neighbors who are affected by home fires in your community. 

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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