1. Make sure you have smoke alarms, and make sure they?re working. Install them in every bedroom, and check the batteries on them every month (you can do this by standing on a chair and pushing the tester button on them). Also, pick a day you?ll remember every year?such as New Year?s Day?to change the batteries.
2. Have your chimney checked. We see the most structure fires in the fall and early winter because people are beginning to use their woodstoves and fireplaces. It?s very important to call a chimney sweep and have chimneys cleaned and checked, especially if they?re old. That also goes for insulated pipes. Chimneys and pipes can burn out or crumble and cause fires that you might not even be aware of because they?re out of sight. We?ve had cases of people driving by a house and seeing flames shooting out of the attic, and the people inside didn?t see or smell any evidence.
3. Clean the lint catcher in your clothes dryer. Rinse it out from time to time as well, because substances can get gummed up on it and cause a dryer fire. Sometimes people don?t notice that there?s a fire until they open the dryer and see the smoke or flames. If this happens, immediately slam the dryer shut and call 911.
4. Don?t feed a fire. Fires need oxygen, so do everything you can to contain the fire and smoke. That?s why you?d want to shut the dryer (or the oven, or whatever) if you see flames. And if you wake up and there?s a fire, especially outside your bedroom, close the door and put something along the bottom of it to keep the smoke from coming through. Then escape out a window. Remember, the more doors and windows that are open, the more oxygen will get to the fire.
5. Beware of having open fires. Avoid leaving the door open to a woodstove or open fireplace, especially if unattended. Sparks can jump out onto rugs or curtains and start a fire. The same goes for candles. One man had a candle burning on his bathroom counter while he showered. When he got out, he dried himself and tossed his towel on the counter. The towel lit up and started a fire that actually burned his whole house down!
6. Plan escape routes. Make sure that all family members, especially children, know how they can get out of their bedroom in case of a fire. The bedroom windows should be easy to unlock and open, and if bedrooms are upstairs, there should be a porch roof to jump onto or a fire ladder tucked under the bed. You also want windows that a firefighter can fit through with an air pack on their back and in full gear.
7. Have an escape plan. Your whole family should agree on a place to meet in case of a fire (it should be somewhere outside the house and a safe distance from it, such as at the end of the driveway). Everyone should go there as soon as they get out of the house so they can be quickly accounted for and you don?t have a parent running back inside to find a child.
8. People come first. Tell kids to never go back into the house after pets and don?t take anything out with them. The most important thing is for everyone to get themselves out and then stay out. People are often tempted to go back into an area where there aren?t any flames, but the smoke can overcome you even if you?re not in a fire area.
9. Be easy to find. Make sure your address is posted very visibly, even at night. Reflective numbers that are large enough to be seen while quickly driving by on the road (from either direction) are great! And once the firefighters have been called, have someone posted to watch for the emergency vehicles and blink the porch light on and off to signal the responders what home they?re needed at.
10. Stop, drop, and roll! Everyone should be taught the basics of this little expression. It reminds you that if you get fire on yourself, you never run. You stop, drop to the floor, and start rolling. If you see someone with flames on them, grab a blanket and throw it over them to smother the fire.
11. Visit a fire station. Your local fire department can provide brochures, tours, and answers to questions and will even put on programs for school or Pathfinder groups. And firefighters love to have people visit the station; they?ll often dress up in gear for them and let them sit on the fire truck and try on a hat. It?s especially important for smaller children to see a firefighter in full gear, because if they?re trapped in their bedroom during a fire, they?ll usually hide under a bed or in a closet out of fear. Firefighters go down on their knees where there?s less smoke, and suddenly the child sees this ?monster? entering their room wearing a big suit and mask and breathing loudly like Darth Vader. The kid might be too scared to want to go with this person who is really there to save their life!