October is National Fire Prevention Month and October 8-17, 2017 was recognized as Fire Prevention Week. The first Fire Prevention Week was established in commemoration of one of the worst fires in American history – the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. On October 9 of that year, 250 people died and over 17,000 buildings were destroyed. After another major fire in 1911, Fire Prevention Week was established to help publicize fire prevention and make Americans aware of things they could do to keep them and their families safe.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2015 US fire departments responded to approximately 365,500 home structure fires. These fires resulted in 2,560 deaths, 11,075 injuries and $7 billion in direct damage. On average, about 7 people die in US home fires each day and more than a quarter of those are children.
Most adults mistakenly believe that children will run to or call a parent or other adult during a fire. Others believe that the children will instinctively know not to remain inside a burning home. Tragically, this is not the case. Young children often hide under beds or in closets, thinking they are more secure, while older children often think they can help by trying to fight the fire themselves.
Everyone, young and old, should take note of these recommendations for home fire preparedness:
- Have a working smoke detector on every floor of your home and in every sleeping room. Test each detector monthly. Change the batteries at least once per year. Pick a date you’ll always remember to do it: Christmas Day, your anniversary, your birthday, etc. Never remove the batteries except to replace them.
- Teach everyone in the household, especially small children, what the smoke detector alarm sounds like and what to do when it goes off.
- Plan two escape routes out of the home and practice fire drills until everyone can escape the home from every room, especially the bedrooms. Store portable ladders in easily accessible locations in second-story bedrooms. About three-quarters of the people in a NFPA poll said they had a home escape plan, but less than half said they had practiced it.
- If there are immobile family members (invalids, infants, etc.) who cannot escape on their own, designate a family member to be responsible for them. This is especially important for immobile visitors to the home who may not be familiar with the home layout and escape routes.
- Since most residential fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., conduct random fire drills with your family during the night. Use the smoke detector alarm to begin the drill.
- Designate a meeting place outside the house (preferably in front of the home where the arriving firefighters can find you). Choose a tree, street lamp or neighbor’s home. Everyone should know to meet there after they’ve escaped so you can count heads and tell firefighters if anyone is missing.
As with any aspect of personnel safety, preparedness is key. For more information about protecting yourself and your family from fires, contact your local fire department or visit www.NFPA.org.