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Practice makes safety: Making and practicing a home fire escape plan

Jan. 11, 2018

Photo of a family creating a fire escape plan.
Photo: Making an escape plan and practicing it twice a year with everyone in your household (so that the kids know how to escape without you) can greatly increase your chances of surviving a fire in your home.

Whether it was from a piano teacher, a soccer coach, or some other adult in your life, you likely heard this phrase ad nauseam growing up: “Practice makes perfect!” Especially when it’s for an event—like a performance or a big game – where the stakes are high and you’re full of adrenaline, you need to rely on those repeated actions to get you through.

What stakes could be higher than getting safely out of your burning home with your family? When that smoke alarm goes off, you’ll likely be in bed (most fires happen during the night), if not sound asleep. And considering the fact that fires double in size every 60 seconds and new construction and furnishings cause homes to burn much faster than they did 30 years ago, experts estimate that you’ll have less than three minutes to get yourself and your family out of the house.

To avoid spending precious seconds figuring out where everyone is and where you need to go, your escape needs to happen like clockwork—and the only way to ensure that is to make a plan and practice it at least twice a year, day and night, with everyone in your home. And when we say “everyone,” we mean kids too. Unless they are taught what to do in a fire, they may hide in a closet or under a bed out of fear. And if you can’t help them, they need to know how to escape on their own.

Making and practicing a family fire escape plan may seem overwhelming at first, but here’s how to start:

  1. Install smoke alarms on every floor of your house and outside every sleeping area, and test them once a month. You can’t escape a fire if you don’t know it’s happening in the first place, and a smoke alarm gives you the critical seconds you need to get out unharmed.
  2. Draw a map of your home that shows two ways out of every room. Make sure those ways out are easy to open (make sure windows aren’t painted shut, for example), and practice using different ones. If you have a multi-level home, consider putting an escape ladder near each window so you can get to the ground safely in an emergency.
  3. Designate a meeting place outside, such as a tree or utility pole.
  4. Practice closing doors behind you as you leave each room. This helps keep the fire and smoke from spreading.
  5. When you practice, make sure everyone knows that when they get out, they’re out for good. NEVER go back inside a burning building – not even for pets or people.
  6. Speaking of pets, it’s a good idea to account for them in your safety plan.
  7. Call 911 after you get out. Don’t spend precious seconds calling from inside the house.

The best way to stay safe from fire, of course, is to prevent it from starting in the first place. But this is reality – in fact, in 2016 alone, there were 6,020 structure fires in Minnesota. So instead of hoping it won’t happen to you, make and practice that home fire escape plan with your family. Because in this case, practice makes safety.