Project Guide

How to Prepare for a Fire Emergency

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Make a Fire Emergency Plan
A family looks at a house diagram to make a fire emergency plan.

Make a plan for how your family can escape your house in case of a serious fire. 

  • Begin by making a diagram of the house or apartment building and identifying two escape routes from every room, such as by a door and by a window. 
  • Teach children what the smoke or carbon monoxide alarms sound like and how to react to them, especially if a fire breaks out in the middle of the night. 
  • During an evacuation, if you suspect a fire is on other side of a closed door, feel the top, edge and doorknob for heat. If hot to the touch, do not open, but use the secondary exit. Never open a hot door during a fire. 
  • If you have to go through a smoky room or hallway, cover your nose and mouth and keep low to the ground to prevent smoke inhalation. The best air is 1 to 2 feet above the floor. 
  • Remember to stop, drop and roll if your clothes catch on fire. 
  • Include house pets in your escape plan.
  • Make sure the escape plan includes a safe place for meeting outside the house, such as by the mailbox, and designate someone to call the emergency services. 
  • Once you’ve left a burning house, don’t go back in, just wait for the local fire department.
  • Stage regular drills to ensure your family's emergency preparedness.
  • Post the plan in a clearly visible place, such as the kitchen.
Install Smoke Detectors
A person mounts a smoke alarm on the ceiling.

More than half of all residential fire fatalities occur in homes without smoke detectors, so make sure your home is properly equipped. 

  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of the house and in each bedroom. 
  • Smoke rises, so place smoke alarms high on walls or on ceilings. 
  • Change batteries every year or immediately when the low battery signal begins to chirp. Definitely do not disable a chirping alarm with the intention of replacing the new battery later: you might forget, placing your home in jeopardy. 
  • Choose a day every year for changing the smoke alarm batteries, such as the autumn day when Daylight Savings Time “falls back" and you reset your clocks.

Tip: Install carbon monoxide detectors in all of your home’s major rooms, between knee and chest height.

Acquire Fire Extinguishers
A person uses a fire extinguisher to put out a small kitchen fire.

Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen and at least one for each floor of your home. Familiarize yourself with the rating system of home fire extinguishers before acquiring one: 

  • Fire extinguishers with a Class A rating are effective against paper, wood, textiles and plastics. 
  • Fire extinguishers with a Class B rating are effective against flammable liquid fires that may involve cooking oil, gasoline, paint or other substances. 
  • Fire extinguishers with a Class C rating are effective against “live” electrical equipment. 

To properly operate a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS,” for: 

  • Pull the pin to release the lock, pointing the nozzle away from you; 
  • Aim the extinguisher low, at the base of the fire; 
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and carefully; 
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side. 

Tip: Mount fire extinguishers 4 to 5 feet from the floor to be in easy reach. Do not store a fire extinguisher close to the stove. 

Acquire Fire Escape Ladders
Family members hang onto a second floor fire escape ladder.

If your home has more than one story, you should have an escape ladder in each top-story room. 

  • Store the ladders next to windows for easy access and make sure young people, the elderly and people with disabilities can use them or have a contingency plan.
  • Make sure that windows and screens open easily and are not painted shut. 
Reduce Potential Fire Hazards
Gasoline containers are stored safely in a garage.

Inspect your house to eliminate or reduce potential fire hazards. 

  • Make sure electrical outlets are not overloaded or exceed the safe number of plugs in use (especially at Christmas or other holidays). 
  • Make sure power cords, extension cords and other wiring is not frayed, damaged or improperly placed. 
  • Dryer ducts should be cleaned annually to avoid the accumulation of flammable lint. 
  • Gasoline and other flammable liquids should be stored in containers such as gas cans and only in appropriate areas. 
  • Chimneys should be inspected annually and cleaned regularly to avoid buildup of flammable creosote. 
  • Make sure that space heaters are used according to instructions. 
  • Store matches, lighters cigarettes and other smoking accessories out of reach of children.

Learning how to prepare for a fire emergency is essential to make sure you can keep your loved ones – and yourself – as safe as possible.