The first and last thing when dealing with fire safety is preparation. If you are prepared and careful, there is little that can go wrong in your home for it to be set on fire. Having things like smoke alarms, escape ladders, and sprinkler systems in place will help. But, if the fire spreads, in many cases, you need a fire escape plan.

There is no specific way that a fire escape plan must look like, but there are some similarities for all homes and buildings and all buildings should be built to easy to exit in case of a fire. If there are no fire escape routes in your building, either bring in a professional to put your place of work or residence up to code or change the place of work or residence, whichever is better for you.

The most important place where you need to have a fire escape plan is your home, especially if you have young children. You should devise a plan, discuss it with your family, and practice a fire drill at least once every two months. If you have ever seen one of those heist movies, a good fire escape plan should look something like that, divided into sensible parts and with a goal to get out quickly, although in your case with something much more important than money, with your family.

The Reaction

Primary thing when making a fire escape plan is how you and your family will react once a smoke alarm or a monoxide alarm sound off, or if someone in your family spots a fire. Even a small flame can burst out into a devastating fire in a matter of minutes and you should be prepared to act quickly with an evacuation plan and exit the building with your family as soon as you can.

This is best done with specific instruction on what would everyone do in case of a fire, how will they use the escape routes, and how will they keep themselves safe. Once the smoke alarm sounds off, you and your family should remain calm and drop to the floor. As any smoke in the house will try to rise to the top, there will be no air to breather at head level and you may lose consciousness.

Keep low and crawl towards the primary fire exit. Try to keep your face covered with a piece of clothing or your hands. When trying to open a door, feel if the door is warm to the touch and if the handle of the door is hot. If this is the case, there is a considerable chance that the fire is on the other side and that you should use the secondary fire escape.

If you have small children, you should keep the place where they sleep near to you, so you don’t lose time stumbling around the house. Official fire recommendation states not to assist others and exist yourself as soon as possible, but experience states that no parent has ever listened to this recommendation. This is why your reaction plan should include your reaction to your kids being in danger.

If your children are slightly older, practice with them so to make sure that they can exit the home on their own. Be confident in your children and don’t put them or yourself in unnecessary danger by entering a flaming building. Once the house is already on fire, and you are outside, don’t ever go back for anything. Wait for the fire department that is trained to work with these kinds of situations. Call 911 from outside the home from your cell phone, or from a neighboring building.

The Layout

Once you have agreed on how everyone will act in an emergency, put up a layout of your home’s floor plan to ensure everyone is up to speed with an evacuation plan. See where the fire hazards are, how they can influence your escape route, and where are the best security exits for the building.

Print out a full layout of all floors with marked places where everyone sleeps, where the smoke alarms are and there are the exits. Every level of the building should have a specific plan for that floor and safe secondary exits from each room where someone sleeps. When you have the layout, you will see the quickest way from any room to an exit.

If it seems that there are multiple ways to exit, use the quickest way as your primary route and others as secondary routes if the first one is blocked by fire. Check if the primary route is accessible from all rooms and is relatively secure from fire hazards. There should be no furniture, or anything else, blocking the primary way out of the house at any time.

The Exit

Every home should have at least two exits in case of emergency. Once you have the layout printed, see what would the primary way out be and if there is any room that can become blocked in case that there is a fire. If you have multiple levels, there should be two exits per level, which should be on the opposite sides of the house so that they can’t become both blocked at the same time, making your home into a fire trap.

Make sure that all your family members are well aware of these exists and that you practice exiting both of them quickly. It is optimal that both the primary and the secondary fire exit is a door that leaves outside, but that is often impossible. If you don’t have doors on the opposite sides of your house, make windows the secondary exit options.

Be sure that all windows work, that they open easily and that the panels can be pushed out without too much force and that it is safe to jump outside without hurting yourself or others. Some homes have barred windows to prevent intruders, which becomes a problem once you need to get out of the window. Be sure that there are quick release handles on the bars and that all member of your household knows how to use them.

If you have PVC windows in your home, that can’t be opened completely, be sure to keep window hammers close to the windows in case of emergency. If there is a second floor of the house, make sure that there is a safe secondary fire exit in case the stairs are blocked. If you don’t have a back porch that has stairs to the second floor, install fire ladders that can be let down in case that they are needed. Be sure that all members of the family know how to release the ladders and can get them quickly.

The Meeting Point

Once every member of your household exists the building, you should pick out a place where everyone will meet. This will make a quick head count and prevent people wanting to rush into a flaming building trying to rescue someone that is already outside of the building. Once you are out, you can see if everyone is there and if someone is missing you can inform the fire department where that person sleeps in the house and how they can get there quickly.

The meeting place in a fire escape plan should be in front of the building, at a specific place. You should pick an open location that has an unobstructed view of the house. It is best to pick out a tree at the side of the road and in the end of your driveway if possible. Make sure your children know that that is the place where all members of the family should meet.

Once at the meeting point, you should call 911 and inform the fire department of the emergency. If you don’t have a mobile phone on hand, once there are two people outside, designate a person to go call about an emergency from a neighbor or passerby.

Calmly wait near the road where assistance will arrive and provide you with medical aid, and where you will inform the fire department of your house layout and if anyone is in danger. Once you call the fire department, inform them of your city, your address, and the phone number that they can reach you.

The Rehearsal

The best way for everyone to react calmly and do their part in safely exiting the burning building is to rehearse in advance. Once that smoke detector is sounded, the meeting place should be on the minds of every family member. Organize a home fire drill once every two months, checking different routes and escape plans. Be sure to focus on the children and their knowledge about fire safety.

You should check your smoke alarm once every month and change the batteries in the alarm at least once every year. This time can be the best time to make a fire drill and to go over the basics of fire safety and the escape plan with your family and your children. If you have guests, be sure to have a fire escape plan on the door of the guest room, and if they are staying for longer inform them of your fire escape plan.

This can have multiple benefits, as it is not only something that can save your life and the life of your family but is also something that can be a fun family activity. Making a fire escape plan is easy, gives you something to do with the whole family, gives you a peace of mind and can save lives. There is no reason not to have one.

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