Fire spreads quickly. If your house is on fire, there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening, and in five minutes, your home can be completely engulfed in flames.
The heat and smoke from a fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling super-heated air can sear your lungs. Inhaling smoke can make you feel disoriented and drowsy. Asphyxiation causes three times as many fire deaths as burns.
Before a Fire
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your residence. Place them outside bedrooms on the ceiling or high on the wall, at the top of open stairways or at the bottom of enclosed stairs, and near the kitchen.
- Test smoke alarms every month and replace batteries at least once a year.
- Plan and review escape routes with your family. Practice escaping from each room. [See "Make and Practice a Home Escape Plan."]
- Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut. Security gratings on windows should have a fire safety opening feature so they can be easily opened from the inside.
- Teach family members to stay low to the floor where the air is safer to breathe in a fire.
- Never leave cooking unattended. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. It is also the leading cause of fire injuries.
- Keep towels, pot holders, clothing and curtains away from flames and heating elements.
- Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease buildup that could ignite.
- If a fire breaks out while cooking, put a lid on the pan to smother it. Never throw water on a grease fire.
- Heat oil gradually to avoid burns from spattering grease. Use extra caution when preparing deep-fried foods.
- Never use the range or oven to heat your home.
- Double-check the kitchen before you go to bed or leave the house. Make sure all small appliances are turned off.
- Never use gasoline, benzine, naptha, or similar flammable liquids indoors.
- Store flammable liquids in approved containers in well-ventilated storage areas.
- Never smoke near flammable liquids.
- Discard all rags or materials that have been soaked in flammable liquids after you have used them. Safely dispose of them outdoors in a metal container.
- Place space heaters at least three feet away from flammable materials. Make sure the floor and nearby walls are properly insulated.
- Keep open flames away from walls, furniture, drapery, and flammable items.
- Keep a screen in front of the fireplace.
- Have heating units inspected and cleaned annually by a certified specialist.
- Keep matches and lighters up high, away from children, and, if possible, in a locked cabinet.
- Never smoke in bed or when drowsy or medicated. Provide smokers with deep, sturdy ashtrays. Douse cigarette and cigar butts with water before disposal.
- Have the electrical wiring in your residence checked by an electrician.
- Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs.
- Make sure outlets have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
- Make sure wiring does not run under rugs, over nails, or across high-traffic areas.
- Do not overload extension cords or outlets. If you need to plug in two or three appliances, get a UL-approved unit with built-in circuit breakers to prevent sparks and short circuits.
- Make sure insulation does not touch bare electrical wiring.
- Sleep with your door closed.
- Install A-B-C-type fire extinguishers in your residence and teach family members how to use them.
- Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.
- Ask your local fire department to inspect your residence for fire safety and prevention.
During a Fire
- Check closed doors for heat before you open them to escape from a fire. Use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame. Never use the palm of your hand or fingers to test for heat - burning those areas could impair your ability to crawl below smoke or climb down a ladder.
- If the door is hot, do not open it. Escape through a window. If you cannot escape, hang a white or light-colored sheet outside the window, alerting fire fighters to your presence.
- If the door is cool, open it slowly and ensure fire and/or smoke is not blocking your escape route. If your escape route is blocked, shut the door immediately and use an alternate escape route, such as a window. If clear, leave immediately through the door and close it behind you. Be prepared to crawl. Smoke and heat rise. The air is clearer and cooler near the floor.
- Crawl low under any smoke to your exit - heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
- Close doors behind you as you escape to delay the spread of the fire.
- Stay out once you are safely out. Do not reenter. Call 9-1-1.