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Fire Starts at Home. Safety Should Too
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Katie Lawson
October 10, 2007

Large-scale disasters make people stop and take notice, but it’s the smaller disasters that happen every day that do the most damage yet go largely unnoticed. In fact, four out of five Americans don't realize the most common disaster threat is not hurricanes or floods—it’s home fires.

Although home fires tend to increase during the winter months, there is no official “season” for home fires like there is for hurricanes or other big disasters. The number of these fires is on the rise—since 2000, the number of home fires the American Red Cross has responded to has risen 10 percent.

Home fires are more common than you may think. Make your fire escape plan now and be sure you know at least two ways to escape from every room. In the event of a fire, it could save your life.
Home fires are more common than you may think. Make your fire escape plan now and be sure you know at least two ways to escape from every room. In the event of a fire, it could save your life.
(Photo Credit: Stock Photo/American Red Cross)

This week is National Fire Prevention Week, and the American Red Cross urges families to prepare for and take action to prevent these disasters. This year’s theme is “Practice Your Escape Plan,” as studies have found that only one in four families have actually developed and practiced a home fire escape plan.

Make and Practice Your Plan

Just as you have a financial plan for your family, you should also take the time to develop an evacuation plan. In the event of a fire, you and your loved ones will have to think quickly to stay out of danger. Having a plan and practicing it as a family could possibly save your lives.

Follow these simple steps when creating your fire escape plan:


  • Identify two ways to escape from every room in the home.
  • Practice your escape plan at least twice a year.
  • Have your family practice escaping from your home at different times of the day.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1.
  • Consider escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second and third floors. Make sure everyone in your home learns how to use them ahead of time by reading the manufacturer’s instructions and understanding the steps to use them. Store them near the window where they will be used.
  • Select a safe location away from the home where your family can meet after escaping.
  • If you see smoke or fire in your first escape route, use your second way out. If you must exit through smoke, crawl low under the smoke.
  • Before escaping through a closed door, feel the door before opening it. If it is warm, use your second escape route.
  • Teach your family members to stop, drop to the ground, and roll if their clothes catch on fire. Practice this with your children.
  • If smoke, heat or flames block both of your exit routes, stay in the room with the door closed. Place a rolled towel underneath the door. Signal for help by waving a brightly colored cloth or shining a flashlight at the window. If there is a telephone in the room, call the fire department and let them know your exact location inside the home.
  • Once you’ve escaped your home, stay out.


Make Your Home Safer from Fire

Last year, the Red Cross responded to more than 74,000 disasters in communities across the United States, and 93 percent of them were fire related. While home fires may be the most common disaster in the United States, they are also easy to prevent.

“Preparing for a home fire doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment or training, and Fire Prevention Week is a great time to get started,” says Red Cross preparedness expert Heidi Taylor.

Smoke alarms save lives. Having a working smoke alarm reduces one’s chance of dying in a fire by nearly half, so be sure to install one outside each sleeping area and on each level of your home. Use these tips as a guide to using smoke alarms in your home:


  • If people sleep with doors closed, install smoke alarms inside sleeping areas, too.
  • Use the test button to check each smoke alarm once a month. When necessary, replace batteries immediately. Replace all batteries once a year.
  • Vacuum away cobwebs and dust from your smoke alarms monthly.
  • Smoke alarms become less sensitive over time. Replace your smoke alarms every ten years.
  • Consider having one or more working fire extinguishers in your home. Get training from the fire department in how to use them.
  • Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your home.


You and your family can get more information on fire safety and creating your home fire plan by visiting www.redcross.org/homefires.

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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