This site was created in cooperation with the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee, and is supported by funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
You can survive even major fires in your home if you are alerted to the fire, get out quickly, and stay out. The best way to achieve this is to install and maintain smoke detectors as well as make an escape plan and practice it.
Plan your escape
When a fire occurs, there’s no time for planning. Sit down with your family today and make a step-by-step plan for escaping from a fire.
Draw a floor plan of your home
The floor plan marks two ways out of every room, especially sleeping areas. Discuss the escape routes with every member of your household.
Agree on a meeting place
Establish a meeting place outside your home where every member of the household will gather after escaping a fire to wait for the fire department. This allows you to count heads and inform the fire department if anyone is trapped inside the burning building.
Practice your escape plan
Practice at least twice a year. Have a fire drill in your home. Appoint someone to be monitor and have everyone participate. A fire drill is not a race. Get out quickly, but carefully.
Make your exit drill realistic
Pretend that some exits are blocked by fire and practice alternative escape routes. Pretend that the lights are out and that some escape routes are filling with smoke.
Make sure everyone in the household can unlock all doors and windows quickly, even in the dark. Windows or doors with security bars need to be equipped with quick-release devices and everyone in the household should know how to use them.
If you live in an apartment building
In apartment buildings, use stairways to escape. Never use an elevator during a fire. It may stop between floors or take you to a floor where the fire is burning.
If you live in a two-story house
If your house is a two-story, and you must escape from a second-story window, be sure there is a safe way to reach the ground. Collapsible escape ladders are about $35 to $40 in hardware stores. Make special arrangements for children, older adults and people with disabilities. People who have difficulty moving should have a phone in their sleeping area and, if possible, should sleep on the ground floor.
Test doors before opening them
While kneeling or crouching at the door, reach up as high as you can and touch the door, the knob, and the space between the door and its frame with the back of your hand. If the door is hot, use another escape route. If the door is cool, open it with caution.
If you are trapped
If you are trapped in an area, close all doors between you and the fire. Stuff the cracks around the doors to keep out smoke. Wait at a window and signal for help with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight. If there’s a phone in the room, call the fire or 911, and tell them exactly where you are.
Get out fast in case of fire
When there’s a fire, don’t stop for anything. Do not try to rescue possessions or pets. Go directly to your meeting place and then call the fire department from a neighbor’s phone or an alarm box. Every member of your household should know how to call the fire department by dialing 911.
Crawl low under smoke
Smoke contains deadly gases, and heat rises. Therefore during a fire, cleaner air will be near the floor. If you encounter smoke when using your primary exit, use your alternate escape plan. If you must exit through smoke, crawl on your hands and knees, keeping you head 12 to 24 inches above the floor.
Once you are out of your home, don’t go back for any reason. If people are trapped, the firefighters have the best chance of rescuing them. The heat and smoke of a fire are overpowering. Firefighters have the training, experience, and protective equipment needed to enter burning buildings.
Floyd Peoples, Chief Fire Marshal, Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department, 816-784-9100
Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council, 9550 W. 95th St., Overland Park, Kan. 66212