Create a Fire Emergency Plan
Download our Fire Safety Items Checklist to make sure you have enough fire safety items to cover your entire home, especially where people sleep.
- Purchase fire safety items such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, fire ladders and so on.
- Print out and fill in your Emergency Contact List. Print copies of the Contact List and keep them by your phones for easy access. Instruct family members how to call for help.
- Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room. Place a copy of the plan in the bedroom of each family member or where the plan can be easily accessible.
- Designate a place for the family to meet outside the house. If it’s a neighbor’s house, make sure all family members know the address and phone number.
WHN Reader TIP – Pick a Tree! “Choose a favorite tree on the lawn and tell your children to stay there and wait for the firefighters to arrive. Choose a meeting place that’s away from the road and driveway – first responder vehicles might use these.” Sarah, Washington, DC
- Practice your escape plan every month, using both planned exit routes from each room. Make sure windows and doors aren’t stuck and that screens can be removed. Try practicing at night to see how long family members take to wake up.
- Always sleep with your bedroom doors shut. Doors can act as smoke shields and also increase your potential escape time. At nighttime, consider shutting doors to other rooms and areas as well (bathroom, office, basement) in case a fire starts in that area.
- Always close doors to rooms when leaving your home as well. Again, closed doors will help contain fires to that room and decrease the potential amount of damage.
- Identify or maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, well, swimming pool, or hydrant just in case you’ll need it.
- Know the emergency response plan for your workplace, your children’s school or day-care center, as well as other places where your family spends time.
- Meet with neighbors either informally or through a neighborhood group to create a neighborhood preparedness plan.
- Make sure your house number is visible from the street — emergency personnel will need to find your house in a hurry. Some cities offer to paint your house number on the curb for a small fee. Ask your city or county administration officials about this option.
WHN TIP – The House Number: The best place for your house number is near the front door, at or slightly above eye level and well-lit. When you drive home at nighttime, check to see if your house number is clearly visible. Consider moving the number or adding additional lighting if necessary. Make sure your mailbox number faces the traffic side of the street.
Prepare Your Family
- Parents should take the time to talk to children. Teach them not to hide during a fire. Even if they started the fire, they should not hide and be afraid of getting caught. Kids need to get out at the first sign of fires.
- Instruct your family to leave the building at the first sign of fire or if the alarm sounds. Teach family members to yell “FIRE!” several times while they are leaving the home.
- Teach your family to “stop, drop and roll” if their clothing catches fire (children can confuse this message with escaping from a fire, so make sure that they understand that “stop, drop and roll” is only used when clothing catches on fire).
- Teach family members to stay low to the ground and to feel all doors before opening them in the event of a fire. Remember, if a door is hot, get out another way.
- Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and have a central place to keep it. If you don’t know how to use an extinguisher, get training from the fire department on how to use them.
- Teach family members about the dangers of playing with fire.
- Make sure matches and lighters are out of their reach.
- Children are often concerned about the safety of their pets. Discuss this issue with them and remind them that, in many cases, pets are able to get out on their own.
- Also, teach family members about the basic rules of gas and electrical safety. If they smell a rotten-egg odor, they should leave the house immediately. Teach them to stay away from frayed wires and not to put items in electrical sockets.
- Program your phone with ICE contact information: the people emergency personnel should contact In Case of an Emergency. Go here for instructions.
- Consider enrolling yourself and/or family members in first aid courses. The Red Cross offers basic training of this nature.
- Prepare a readily available and fully stocked Home Disaster Preparedness Kit.
WHN TIP – Where’s the Water? Make sure you call your fire department (non-emergency number) before you ever have a fire. Certain areas may require water truck to be sent to your home instead of relying on fire hydrants.
Prepare Your Home
- Make sure you have smoke alarms on each floor of your home and in each sleeping area or bedroom.
- Smoke alarms should be replaced every eight to ten years.
- You may want to write the purchase date on your alarm with a marker. That way, you’ll know when to replace it.
- Test the smoke alarm each month and replace the batteries twice a year, or earlier if necessary. Change batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
- Make sure the alarm you buy is UL-listed. (“UL” stands for Underwriters Laboratory, a nonprofit organization that tests electrical components and equipment for potential hazards.) Many hardware, home supply or general merchandise stores carry smoke alarms.
WHN TIP – Be Alarmed: Do not put smoke alarms in the kitchen or garage. The fumes from cooking or gas could activate the alarm.
- Make sure you have fire extinguishers in key areas in your home such as the garage and your kitchen.
- Many hardware, home supply or general merchandise stores carry fire extinguishers.
- Check the extinguisher each year. See our 4 Things to Know About Fire and Fire Extinguishers article for more information.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors, if you don’t already have one. The detectors should be installed in every sleeping area.
- Consider installing home fire sprinklers.
- Consider escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second or third floor. Learn how to use them and store them near the window.
- Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your house number.
WHN TIP – Hear That? Make sure you can hear the smoke alarms in every area of your home. Make sure each family member can recognize the sound of your smoke alarm.
- Make sure all electrical work is performed by a qualified electrician.
- Use the proper wattage bulbs for lamps, and keep lamps away from combustible materials.
- Do your lights dim when appliances are turned on? If they do, have your system checked by a qualified electrician.
- Check your appliances’ (toasters, coffee makers, hair dryers and irons, for examples) cords and plugs for cracks or frayed areas.
- Only purchase appliances and electrical devices that have a label indicating that they have been inspected by a testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
- Keep appliances off and unplugged when not in use.
- Clean off grease and food build-up on kitchen appliances. Unplug appliances while cleaning.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters.
- Clean the dryer vent and area around the dryer on a regular basis, since lint buildup can lead to fires.
- Make sure TVs have adequate ventilation.
- Fuse box or electrical panel should be checked yearly for the right fuses and breakers.
- Outlets and Extension Cords
- Discard or replace frayed or damaged cords.
- Don’t plug too many appliances into the same electrical outlet or on the same extension cord, or link too many cords together. You could overload the circuit.
- Do not trap electric cords against walls, under carpets and rugs where heat can build up.
- Make sure outlets have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
- Never use extension cords with heating or air conditioning equipment.
- Both kitchen and bathrooms (and other rooms as recommended by electrician) should be equipped with ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCI) to minimize fire and shock hazards.
- The kitchen should have higher current wiring for many appliances.
- Furniture in your apartment should be placed in a way that allows easy flow of traffic throughout your living space.
- Don’t block hallways, doorways, stairs, or windows with the furniture even if it is for a short time.
- Lofted or bunked beds can be a hazard. Make sure there are at least 36 inches or more between the top mattress and the ceiling.
WHN TIP – Cooking With Care: Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. It is also the leading cause of home fire injuries. Educate yourself now on fire prevention and what to do if a fire does occur.
- Do not disable your smoke alarm if it alarms due to cooking or other non-fire causes: you may not remember to put the batteries back in the alarm after cooking! Instead, clear the air by waving a towel near the alarm, leaving the batteries in place.
- Store kitchen items such as dishtowels, paper towels, potholders, wooden spoons, plastic utensils and food items away from the stove and cooktop burners.
- The storage area above a stove or range should not contain any flammable or combustible items.
- Follow manufacturer’s guidelines when using appliances
- Use only microwave-safe items in microwave ovens. Do not use metal or plastic products.
- When cooking, wear appropriate clothing, such as short or tight-fitting sleeves and tight-fitting shirts, robes, gowns, etc.
- Don’t leave spoons or other utensils in pots while cooking.
- Hold a spoon or spatula in your hand until your cooking is complete. This will remind you that you’re cooking, should you attempt to multi-task (i.e. answer the phone or door, leave the room, watch TV).
- Don’t leave food cooking on stovetops unattended. If you do decide to leave the room, take a portable timer or watch with you to remind you when to check on your food. If you choose to use a timer in your kitchen, make sure you can hear it in other areas in your home.
- Keep pot handles inward, out of reach. Teach children to stay three feet away from the stove while you’re cooking.
- Have a large oven mitt and a lid handy to smother small pan fires.
- When using the stove or range, turn on the exhaust fan while cooking. Be sure to clean the vent filters regularly.
- If a fire should occur, use a fire extinguisher or suffocate it with a pot/pan lid or a cookie sheet, or close the oven door. Then turn off the burner.
- Never pour water on grease fires. These may cause the fire to get larger or create an explosion.
- Use caution when using woks and deep-fryers. The large amount of hot oil can cause serious burns and dangerous grease fires.
- When you’re finished with appliances, turn them off and unplug them.
- Avoid grease build-up in the kitchen (stove, oven, appliances, etc). Clean stove, oven and microwave after cooking to prevent grease fires.
WHN TIP – Clean With Care: “Self-cleaning” doesn’t mean you do not have to clean your oven! Be sure to clean out the food debris and grease from inside your oven. If left unclean, this buildup could become a fire hazard.
- Keep all flammable materials away from heat sources.
- Have a professional inspect all heating sources — fireplaces, wood stoves, boilers and water heaters.
- Consult the operating instructions to make sure you are using space heaters, gas fireplaces, and other heat sources as intended.
- Do not use an oven or stove to heat your home. This could potentially cause a fire and create a buildup of carbon monoxide.
- Chimneys and Fireplaces
- Have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually to reduce the risk of chimney fires.
- Open the fireplace damper before lighting the fire and keep it open until the ashes are cold. Never close the damper or go to bed if the ashes are warm.
- Keep a screen around the fireplace to prevent sparks and ashes from igniting flammable materials.
- Dispose of stove or fireplace ashes and charcoal briquettes only after soaking them in a metal pail of water.
- Space Heaters
- Do not put anything on top of a space heater.
- Place all space heaters on a hard, level floor like tile. Do not place the heater on rugs or carpet. Keep the heater away from drapes and bedding. Turn off the heater when leaving the room and at night. Make sure your space heater will shut off automatically if tipped over.
- Turn off and unplug heaters when not in use or when you leave the room.
Every year, fires during the holiday season cause up to $930 million dollars in property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Take extra precautions by following these tips below.
- Consider using an artificial tree that is labeled “flame resistant.”
- Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent.
- If you do use an evergreen, water it daily to keep it from drying out.
- Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.
- Make sure to inspect stringed lights and window ornaments annually for deterioration.
- Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
- Use lights in their designed areas. Don’t use ‘indoor’ lights outside.
- Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.
- All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents.
- Don’t burn wrapping paper or boxes in your fireplace.
- If you have a party with smokers, you should always check between sofa and chair pads because they can drop down and smolder for hours before you even know the fire has started.
- Don’t smoke in bed or while sitting in furniture.
- Don’t leave burning cigarettes in an ashtray.
- Keep lighters and matches out of sight and reach from children
- If you smoke outdoors, be sure to take in all ashtrays and cigarette butts so the wind does not blow the ashtray contents around your property.
- Make sure all butts have been extinguished before emptying the ashtrays.
- Make sure that flammable and combustible liquids are stored safely away from flames or heat sources. If the labels read “Danger, Extremely Flammable” or “Warning – Flammable,” do not use near any type of open flame including pilot lights, or by arcing electrical equipment such as motors.
- Allow rags soaked with solvents or linseed oil to dry outside and then dispose of them. Do not attempt to wash and dry them, and do not store in a garage or enclosed space because they may spontaneously combust.
WHN TIP — Using a Fire Extinguisher: In the following video, Edina, MN Fire Marshall Tom Jenson details the basics of how to work a fire extinguisher using the acronym P.A.S.S.
Prepare a Home Inventory
- Create a household inventory – videotape, photograph or compile a written inventory of your home and belongings. This will make it easier to file an insurance claim.
- Keep the inventory off-premises in a safety deposit box or with an out-of-the-area contact. The inventory will provide a record for you and the insurance company.
- Update your inventory every two to three years and every time a major purchase is made or significant renovations are undertaken in your home or on your property.
Thank You …
A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.