Creating a Home Fire Escape Plan for Kids—and the Whole Family
our home fire escape plan template to help get your loved ones to safety during
It’s a statistic that’s sobering and frightening: some modern home fires spread so quickly that you may only have two minutes to escape after a smoke alarm sounds before it’s too late. Just like your kids practice fire drills at school, having a fire escape plan in place at home is key to helping your family exit safely during a fire.
A house fire happens every 88 seconds in the U.S., killing seven people and injuring 32 more every day, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fires can spark quickly, and the synthetic materials that are now used in everything from construction to furnishings are making homes burn hotter and faster than ever before.
Although NFPA research shows that the total number of home fire deaths has shrunk since 1980—the rate of death when fires occur has increased by 10 percent. In other words, while progress has been made in preventing residential fires, the results are too often tragic when they happen. Even more devastating, nearly half of the victims were trying to escape when they died.
Despite these alarming statistics, less than half of U.S. homes have a plan in place for escaping a blaze, according to a Nationwide survey. Only one in five families practice their escape plans so they and their loved ones can easily remember them during an emergency. And 45 percent of parents concede that their children will have no idea what to do if a fire breaks out, the survey found.
Home smoke and heat sensors are the first line of defense against a fire—in fact, NFPA states that your chances of dying in a home fire are twice as high if your house lacks a working smoke alarm. But once the smoke alarm does its job, panicked chaos can ensue if your family doesn’t have a plan for escaping fast-spreading flames.
It only takes a bit of preparation to make a home fire much less dangerous. In honor of Home Fire Drill Day in October, here are some tips for creating an at-home fire drill plan for exiting the house in two minutes or less, teaching it to your family, and practicing it twice a year so everyone knows exactly what to do—calmly and safely.
5 simple steps to creating a fire escape plan template
Fire Escape Plan Step 1: Know where to go
Home fire escape plans should include at least two ways to escape every room in a house. Crafting a plan can be as easy as a discussion with your family over dinner. Explain to children that when the smoke and heat sensor sounds, they need to get out of the house quickly and meet at a predetermined safety spot.
Settle on a meeting spot outside that’s far enough from the house to be safe from smoke and debris but close enough for everyone to get there quickly, such as the mailbox or a neighbor’s porch. Also, be sure to discuss the best doors to exit the house. Out the front door may be simplest but if that isn’t safe, kids should know to try a back door or the garage door next.
Incidentally, you can also teach your children to head to the meeting spot if your home’s carbon monoxide sensors go off, indicating unsafe levels of the toxic, odorless gas. Carbon monoxide gas—often generated by incompletely burning sources of carbon fuel like wood, gasoline, or heating oil—is the second-leading cause of non-medicinal poisoning in the U.S.
Finally, draw a floor plan for every floor of your house that shows every window and door. Don’t forget the basement! For every room, indicate two ways out and label them on your drawing. You can use this American Red Cross Home Fire Escape Plan to reproduce your home’s floor plan and plot escape routes.
Fire Escape Plan Step 2: Choose a fire captain
Appoint a family fire captain and make sure everyone in the house understands who it is. Their primary role is taking charge of family members who need extra help getting out safely, such as babies and young children, pets, or the elderly. If multiple family members require assistance, decide in advance who will help each person. Be sure to also designate a substitute captain in case the primary person isn’t home or is overcome by smoke.
Fire Escape Plan Step 3: Check your smoke alarms
Test smoke alarms with your children (ideally, once a month) so they’re familiar with the sound, and to make sure everything is working properly. At a minimum, NFPA recommends smoke alarms installed inside every sleeping room, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of a home. Additional alarms are required for large residences. Read our previous blog for tips on choosing a smoke alarm and placing them in your home.
Traditional smoke detectors will chirp when batteries are low whereas smart smoke and heat sensors linked to a smart home security system go the extra step and send email and text alerts to your phone or other devices. Installing new batteries immediately is critical to keeping your family safe; never completely disable a chirping smoke alarm—many individuals forget to turn them back on.
Fire Escape Plan Step 4: Review the basics
Once you’ve established the basics of your floor plan, escape plan, and safe meeting spot, it’s time to refine the details—especially for any kids—on what to do:
Give each child a personalized escape plan from his or her room to the safe meeting spot. Explain that no matter what else they have heard about calling 911, no one should stop to call 911 until they are safely out of the house and at the safe spot. Once again, be clear about which adult is tasked with grabbing very young children and infants if everyone is home. You should also discuss what to do in the case of having overnight guests or a family member with a disability.
Make sure your children know who the family fire captain is and what the captain’s responsibilities are during a fire. However, this is vitally important: be sure kids also understand that they shouldn’t wait for the fire captain if the smoke alarm sounds before making their escape. Instead, they should immediately follow the plan and head to the safe meeting spot.
Teach everyone to test doors for heat with the back of their hands before opening them, and to use the alternate escape route if the door is hot to the touch.
When escaping, show everyone how to get low and crawl on the ground, where the air will be less smoky and easier to breathe.
Remember the old “stop, drop, and roll” lesson from when you were a kid? It’s still critically important to know what to do if clothing catches on fire.
If bedrooms are on an upper floor, purchase an escape ladder for each room and store it in an easily accessible place. Make sure that everybody knows where it is and how to use it to escape.
Emphasize to children—and any adults, if necessary—that no one should ever go back inside a burning building. And once children are out, they must stay at the family meeting spot until you find them.
Review the plan several times and quiz your children to make sure they understand what to do if they hear a smoke alarm.
Fire Escape Plan 5: Practice at-home fire drills at least twice a year
Practicing at-home fire drills at least twice a year is essential to helping family members escape home fires as quickly and calmly as possible. The goal: getting everyone safely to the family meeting spot in 120 seconds flat, where you can call 911 and stay together while you wait for help to arrive.
Once you feel confident your children know the fire escape plan, have them head to their bedrooms and wait for the drill to begin. Put one adult in charge of sounding the smoke alarm and running the drill. You can also assign adults to help anyone who’ll need it, such as children under age 6.
Sound the smoke alarm, start a timer, and have everyone race to the family meeting spot. Remind everyone to stay low to avoid smoke and make sure they practice unlatching doors.
Stop the timer when everyone reaches the meeting spot. If the drill took two minutes or less, congratulate your family and consider it a success. If it took longer, keep practicing until everyone is there in under two minutes.
Since fires can start anywhere and at any time, it’s also wise to practice at-home drills in the dark and from other common areas of the house, such as a TV room or playroom. Once your family has it down, share your fire escape plan with frequent guests or visitors. Keep your floors, hallways, and stairs free of any clutter that could hinder an escape during a fire.
smart smoke and heat sensors with home fire escape plans can save lives
Of course, the American Red Cross notes that the best fire escape plans can be rendered useless if a home lacks an alarm that can alert occupants to a fire. Early warning is key to escaping before it’s too late.
Smart smoke and heat sensors linked to a smart security system drastically increase your family’s chances of surviving a home fire. They not only sound an alarm when smoke, heat, or rapidly rising temperatures are sensed but send instant alerts to the homeowner's smartphone so they can call the fire department and check on their families if they aren’t home. Monitored systems will also alert professionals—24 hours a day—who contact the fire department after attempting to verify whether there is an emergency.
Two minutes isn’t a lot of time to escape a burning home. But by carefully creating a fire escape plan and practicing at-home fire drills, you can ensure that your loved ones know how to get to safety if a fire breaks out.
Share this information with family and friends to keep others safe during fires!
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