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Just in case: Preparing your home for fire
Wednesday, October 8, 2008 • Posted October 7, 2008 10:00 PM

Did you know that a civilian fire injury is reported every 38 minutes in the United States? Or that the leading cause of home fire injuries is cooking equipment? Don’t worry – it’s not time to hang up your chef’s hat just yet. Fire Prevention Week is just around the corner (October 5-11), but it’s never too early to prepare for a possible fire in your home.

The fact is that maintaining your home and following general safety practices greatly reduce the risk of fire, and a good safety plan will also ensure that you and your family are prepared – just in case. The National Fire Protection Association offers these tips to protect you and your home in case of a fire:

Plan regular fire drills. Schools – from preschool to high school – practice fire drills regularly, so why shouldn’t you do the same at home? The NFPA recommends at least twice a year.

Ensure that smoke alarms are properly installed. A young woman in Austin died recently when her apartment caught fire in the middle of the night. Later, investigators discovered that her smoke alarm wasn’t installed properly. Since smoke rises, alarms are most effective mounted high on the wall or ceiling. When mounting on the ceiling, keep the device at least four inches from the wall. For wall-mounted alarms, keep between four and twelve inches from the ceiling. Smoke alarms need to be installed on every floor of your house.

Test your smoke alarms at least once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.

Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.

Turn up the volume. Make sure that everyone in your household can both hear and wake up to the sound of your smoke alarm.

Plan your escape. Gather your family, walk through the house and examine all possible escape routes.

Involve the kids. Get children in on the act by creating a floor plan and having them draw out the escape routes. This is a great way to engage their interest in a non-threatening manner.

Practice the plan. Ensure that everyone understands the escape plan. Have each person go through it and check that all windows and doors can be easily opened.

Arrange to meet. Pick a designated meeting spot outside your home.

Know who to call. Make sure that everyone knows to call 9-1-1 only after safely exiting the home.

Don’t go back. Ensure that all family members understand that they should never, under any circumstances, re-enter a burning building.

Tips for those high in the sky

Escape planning for your home is important – but what if you live in a city apartment or downtown loft? Here are valuable tips to ensure you’re also well prepared in the event of an emergency:

Know the plan. Make sure that you're familiar with your building's evacuation plan, which should illustrate what residents are supposed to do in the event of an emergency. Sometimes the safest thing you can do in a tall building fire is to stay put and wait for firefighters.

Practice is key. Whether your building has one floor or 50, identify all of the exits in your building and include them on your escape plan. Make sure to mark stairways too, in case one is blocked by fire.

Never use the elevator. Always use the stairs to get out, never the elevator. Make sure to practice using the stairs as part of your escape plan. If someone in your family has difficulty climbing down steps, incorporate a contingency for this into your plan.

Stay low. Smoke from a fire is toxic and deadly, no matter where you live. Everyone should practice crawling on hands and knees low under smoke, one to two feet above the ground, where the air is cooler and cleaner.

Give the right address. Sounds simplistic, but some residential buildings, especially lofts, have building names that are not actual addresses. To avoid a delay, use your building's street number when you report emergencies.

Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to create a seal around the door and over air vents so smoke doesn’t get in.

Stay by the window. If possible, open your windows at the top and the bottom so fresh air can get in. Don't break the window - if smoke enters the room from outside the building, you won't be able to protect yourself.

Signal to firefighters. Wave a flashlight or light colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.

Fires can be very dangerous, but you can emerge unscathed by following these important tips.

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