Fire can spread
rapidly through your home, leaving you as little as two minutes to
escape safely once the alarm sounds. Your ability to get out depends
on advance warning from smoke alarms, and advance planning — a home
fire escape plan that everyone in your family is familiar with and has
Facts & Figures
- Only one-fifth to one-fourth
of households (23%) have actually developed and practiced a
home fire escape plan to ensure they could escape quickly
- In 2004, there were an estimated
395,500 reported home structure fires and 3,190 associated
civilian deaths in the United States.
- One-third of American households who
made an estimate thought they would have at least 6 minutes
before a fire in their home would become life-threatening.
The time available is often less. And only 8% said their
first thought on hearing a smoke alarm would be to get out!
Your ability to get out depends
on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning.
- Pull together everyone in your
household and make a plan. Walk through your home and
inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households
with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your
home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows
and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. For
easy planning, download NFPA's escape
planning grid (PDF, 634 KB).
This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety
in a non-threatening way.
- Install smoke alarms in every
sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level
of the home. NFPA
72, National Fire Alarm Code® requires interconnected
smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all
- Everyone in the household must
understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan,
check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and
windows can be opened easily.
- Choose an outside meeting place (i.e.
neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a
safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet
after they've escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the
meeting place on your escape plan.
- Go outside to see if your street
number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on
the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding
emergency personnel can find your home.
- Have everyone memorize the emergency
phone number of the fire department. That way any member of
the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular
phone once safely outside.
- If there are infants, older
adults, or family members with mobility limitations,
make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the
fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup
person too, in case the designee is not home during the
- If windows or doors in your home
bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release
devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an
emergency. Emergency release devices won't compromise your
security - but they will increase your chances of safely
escaping a home fire.
- Tell guests or visitors to your home
about your family's fire escape plan. When staying overnight
at other people's homes, ask about their escape plan. If
they don't have a plan in place, offer to help them make
one. This is especially important when children are
permitted to attend "sleepovers" at friends' homes. See
fire safety for kids" fact sheet.
- Be fully prepared for a real fire:
when a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately. Residents
and apartment buildings may be safer "defending in
- Once you're out, stay out! Under no
circumstances should you ever go back into a burning
building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department
dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and
equipment to perform rescues.
Putting your plan
to the test
- Practice your home fire escape plan
twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.
- Make arrangements in your plan for
anyone in your home who has a disability.
- Allow children to master fire escape
planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night
when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to
frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before
they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.
- It's important to determine during the
drill whether children and others can readily waken to the
sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, make sure
that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill
and in a real emergency situation.
- If your home has two floors, every
family member (including children) must be able to escape from
the second floor rooms. Escape ladders can be placed in or
near windows to provide an additional escape route. Review the
manufacturer's instructions carefully so you'll be able to use
a safety ladder in an emergency. Practice setting up the
ladder from a first floor window to make sure you can do it
correctly and quickly. Children should only practice with a
grown-up, and only from a first-story window. Store the ladder
near the window, in an easily accessible location. You don't
want to have to search for it during a fire.
- Always choose the escape route that is
safest – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but
be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you
do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice
getting low and going under the smoke to your exit.
- Closing doors on your way out slows the
spread of fire, giving you more time to safely escape.
- In some cases, smoke or fire may
prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To
prepare for an emergency like this, practice "sealing yourself
in for safety" as part of your home fire escape plan. Close
all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to
seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from
coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and
bottom so fresh air can get in. Call the fire department to
report your exact location. Wave a flashlight or light-colored
cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you
• Reproduced from NFPA's Fire Prevention Week Web site, www.firepreventionweek.org.