Safe at Home

October is Fire Safety Month, the perfect time to make sure you have a plan to stay safe.

House fires are “America’s biggest disaster threat,” according to the American Red Cross. With cooler weather here, furnaces, heaters and candles are back in use. Here’s what you need to know to keep your home & family safe.

You may only have two minutes—just 120 seconds—to escape a house fire. Here are three basics to help you make it out alive, from the American Red Cross.

1. BE ALARMED—BE VERY ALARMEDSmoke alarms

If you’re asleep when a fire starts, the smoke’s carbon monoxide could render you unconscious before you wake up. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms save lives, but only with working batteries and regular maintenance.

Smoke Alarms

Think of the smoke alarms in your home. How many do you count, and when did you last check them?

INSTALL smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

TEST smoke alarms monthly. Change batteries yearly or when they’re not working.

REPLACE smoke alarms every 10 years—just like yogurt, every alarm has an expiration date.

TOP TIP: Vacuum your smoke alarms—dust can render alarms ineffective.

For detailed information, download the American Red Cross’ Fire Smoke Alarm Fact Sheet.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms

This odorless, colorless, invisible gas is created when a fuel source burns incompletely. Poisoning occurs when someone is exposed to a small amount of CO over a longer period of time, or by a large amount of CO over a shorter period of time.

INSTALL CO alarms anywhere a person is likely to fall asleep and near furnaces, wood stoves and fireplaces.

NEVER use a CO alarm in place of a smoke alarm. Use both.

TEST CO alarms every month.

KNOW SYMPTOMS of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.

For detailed information, download the American Red Cross’ Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.

2. EXTINGUISH THE BURNFire extinguisher

A small fire extinguisher makes a huge difference. Keeping one in the kitchen and one next to any fuel-burning sources is a good start. An extinguisher rated “A-B-C” is recommended for home use—some are rechargeable, some are one-time use.

Before you fight a fire with a fire extinguisher, be sure:

  • Everyone has left or is leaving the home.
  • The fire department has been called.
  • The fire is small and not spreading.
  • Your back is to an exit you can use quickly.
  • There is not much smoke in the room.

If you use a fire extinguisher on a fire and the fire does not immediately die down, drop the extinguisher and get out! Most portable extinguishers empty in eight seconds.

For detailed information, visit the American Red Cross’ Fire Safety Equipment page.

3. MAKE AN ESCAPE PLAN—INCLUDING PETS

Knowing two ways out of any room could save your life. Escaping a house fire in 120 seconds or less is the goal. Sketch out an escape plan with a meeting area—and practice!

Determine two ways out of every room. Identify your home’s fire-escape obstacles, such as second- or third-story windows, inoperable windows and the like. Then solve those obstacles by purchasing a fire escape ladder, razor-blading open windows that are painted shut, or even placing a towel, a brick and a stepladder next to inoperable windows.

Fire escapeSketch out a home escape plan, including a meeting area. Bring your household together, go over two escape routes in each room, then practice escaping. This includes how to use any peripheral escape devices, such as ladders.

Then, at the predetermined meeting area, review your escape time. In case of a real fire, call 911 as soon as you’re safely out of the home. And no matter what, never go back in to retrieve pets or objects.

For detailed information and a template, download the American Red Cross’ Home Fire Escape Plan.

Pet Fire Safety

UPDATE COLLARS, on indoor-only animals, too, with your phone number, address, vet and other critical information to reunite lost pets with owners. Microchipping is even better.

PET-ALERT CLINGS on your home’s front window alerts first responders. Write in the number of pets inside your house, and keep it updated.

For detailed information, visit the American Red Cross’ Pet Fire Safety page.

Finally, consider the following:

  • Keep a pair of shoes next to your bed.
  • Keep important documents in a fire-safe box or in a safe-deposit box.
  • Renters, get renter’s insurance—Your landlord’s insurance covers their house, not your stuff.