ST. PAUL — The most common reaction firefighters hear from escaped occupants of burning homes is, “I can’t believe this happened.” Minnesota fire department data, however, reveal that on average, a structure fire is reported every 84 minutes, year-round. More than three-quarters of those are residential, and most are ruled unintentional. The facts say you should believe it. The question remains: What should you do about it?
Beyond learning and practicing fire prevention, you should plan to survive a home fire. October is Fire Prevention Month, and the theme —“Have Two Ways Out!” — refers to the simple, essential process of planning ahead to survive a residential fire.
State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl explains that even if you’re ready to react to a smoke alarm, your first escape route may be blocked by smoke or flames. “Escape options, planning and practice keep people alive in a building fire,” he says. “Children as young as three years old can be taught to get out and stay out, if parents plan and practice with them often.”
To prepare your family for fast escape from a fire, follow these steps:
- Draw a diagram of your home; mark windows and doors, and plan two ways out of each room.
- Plan for every member of your family, including very young or elderly persons who may not be able to get out on their own.
- Be sure your doors and windows open easily from the inside. They should be a way to escape.
- Teach toddlers not to hide from firefighters. A tour of your local fire station will allow them to see firefighters in full turnout gear, and you can explain that these people want to help them. A list of Fire Prevention Month Open Houses at Minnesota Fire Stations will help you plan.
- Teach your kids that if they see smoke, they should crawl low, underneath it, to protect themselves.
- Teach children to touch doors before opening if they’re reacting to a fire alarm; a hot door means that exit is blocked by fire, and they should use the other way out.
- Plan an outside meeting place for everyone in your home, and teach children not to go back inside.
“The secret to success with your escape plan is frequent practice,” Rosendahl says. “And remember this: If your family is staying in a place other than home, you should talk about how to escape there, too. No home is entirely safe if you don’t know how to get out.”
Working smoke alarms, he adds, are key to the entire plan. “Install them. Test them. Replace them every 10 years —and then practice fire-safe behavior, so you never need them.”
Observation of Fire Prevention Month in Minnesota is built around Fire Prevention Week, always the week that includes October 9. The week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of October 9, 1871 in which 250 people died, 100,000 were left homeless and more than 17,000 structures burned. That fire has been attributed to everything from a cow to a meteorite — but Rosendahl would have us remember that most unintentional fires are started by careless human behavior, usually involving cooking, candles or smoking.
The State Fire Marshal Division provides of fire safety information for children and adults on its website at www.fire.state.mn.us
. Another resource is the National Fire Protection Association, sponsor of Fire Prevention Week.
Visiting your local fire department during Fire Prevention Week will provide opportunity to talk, in person, with firefighters who respond to local fires and understand fire escape planning. Find a list of nearly 100 fire department open houses on the State Fire Marshal website.
The mission of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division is to protect lives and property by fostering a fire-safe environment through fire/arson investigation, code development and enforcement, regulation, data collection and public education. Data collected by the State Fire Marshal Division from fire departments statewide is analyzed and used to determine the best methods of public education and enforcement to improve fire safety in our state. Find data online at fire.state.mn.us
; select MFIRS, Reporting and Statistics, and Fire in Minnesota.