Fire Safety

I once read a statistic that basically said there are far fewer casualties in school fires than there are in home fires. And the reason for this is very interesting. Schools have periodic fire drills, and therefore, the kids know exactly what to do when the fire alarm goes off. But at home, fire drills are rarely run leaving kids confused as to what they are supposed to do in the event of an actual home fire. And this confusion often has tragic consequences. But it does not have to be this way. Please talk to your kids about fire safety and run periodic fire drills at least twice a year. Here are some things to talk about with your family:

Egress (2 ways out)

Discuss with your kids at least two (2) ways to get out of each and every room in your house (this should be at least a door and a window). Make sure these exits are clear and accessible, especially the window. People will often put items in front of a window. Take your kids in each room and discuss all their options. Help them determine whether to use the door or the window. Discuss the risks of each. Discuss 'Day' as well as 'Night' egress considerations. Teach them how to feel the door knob to see if it is hot. Metal door knobs will get hot much quicker than a wooden door. Remember "Stay Low and Go." In case the window is the best option, make sure they can unlock and open each window. Address the screen too. My kids stopped after the window was opened because of the sceen. They didn't know how to remove it. I told them that you do not remove it, you push it out. If needed, show them how they would break the window to get out. Discuss all the precautions they need to take to avoid getting cut while evacuating through a broken window, such as using a blanket or towel to cover the base. Make sure your basement windows don't have heavy window well covers on them, and if they do, make sure your kids know how to remove these. They make covers that are secured from inside the window well. These keep intruders out, but have a quick release mechanism that allows for easy egress out the window well. It is great practice to have them unlock, open, and actually use the window for egress. Younger kids may not be able to climb out of the window well. They make window well ladders for this. You may want to look into this. If you have a house with a second story, make sure you have escape ladders for each room, and show your kids how to use these ladders. These ladders come folded quite small so you can store them somewhere near your windows. Then, when needed, just hook them over the window ledge and drop the ladder down. Make sure the ladder you have or plan on getting is the correct length for its intended use. These ladders are not very expensive, and this is one safety item that you do not want to wait until you need to go buy. The consequences of not having a safety ladder FAR outweigh the cost of buying one. Do not put a price on your kid's safety (especially when that price is in the double digits). A 13-foot ladder is about $33 and a 25-foot ladder is about $53. Amazon and Home Depot both sell these. Get the size that is right for your house. So if you have a second story house, please look into these.

Make sure your kids know NOT to:

  • Go back for you, pets, or "things." They are to go immediately to the rally point.

  • Hide (younger kids tend to do this, fearing they might get in trouble)

  • Hide from firemen. Kids have reported firemen in their fire fighting suits look scary. Let them know that they are there to find them and get them out.

Fire Extinguishers


Do you have fire extinguishers in your house? At the very least, keep one in the kitchen (where the majority of house fires start), the garage, the utility room in the basement, the laundry room, and I keep one in the master bedroom in my bed kit. I figure, if a fire alarm wakes us up, at least I'll have an extinguisher within arms reach. But you can put them where ever you feel you need them. Make sure your kids know where all of yours are. Take this opportunity to add the locations of all the extinguishers to your home manual. I hadn't let my kids know where ours were until my daughter asked if we have any in the house.

Check periodically:

Check to make sure they have a good charge (in the green band). If it's not, replace it. They do eventually lose their charge. They are usually good anywhere from 5-15 years. Make sure your kids know how to use them. If you have an old one, let the kids discharge it in the yard so they can see first hand how it works.

How to use:

Teach them how to use a fire extinguisher. Think PASS:

  • P- Pull the pin

  • A- Aim at the base of the fire

  • S- Squeeze the lever

  • S- Sweep side to side

Make sure they know that fire extinguishers spray between 5 to 20 feet, depending on the size, and only last 10 to 25 seconds, again depending on the size. Fire extinguishers are designed to be used on fires that are roughly the size of a trash can. If it is bigger than that, don't waste your time. Get out.

Types: A B C

A common fire extinguisher type is called an A-B-C extinguisher.

  • A- think of Ash: this is anything that burns and leaves ash, such as paper, wood, etc.

  • B- think of Boil: this is flammable liquids such as gasoline, solvents, paints, etc.

  • C- think of Current (as in electrical): this usually deals with electricity and electrical fires. There are other classes of fire extinguishers as well, but the A B C extinguishers cover most everything. See the chart below for more information.

Smoke Alarms

Make sure you have enough smoke alarms installed. Here are some general guidelines on where smoke alarms should be installed (put out by the National Fire Protection Association):

  • Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.

  • On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.

  • Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.

  • Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.

  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).

  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak).

  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

  • Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.

  • For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms. When one smoke alarm sounds they all sound. Interconnection can be done using hard-wiring or wireless technology.

  • When interconnected smoke alarms are installed, it is important that all of the alarms are from the same manufacturer. If the alarms are not compatible, they may not sound.

  • There are two types of smoke alarms – ionization and photoelectric. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or combination ionization-photoelectric alarms, also known as dual sensor smoke alarms, are recommended.

  • Change the batteries annually. And change all of them at the same time.

  • Test each detector periodically (monthly or quarterly). Make sure your kids are around sometimes when you test them. They need to know what they sound like when they go off. They need to know what to do when they hear that sound. The last thing you want your kids to do when a smoke alarm goes off is ask "What's that?" I experienced this first hand with my kids. I used to test them while the kids were gone so I didn't scare them (I realize now that that is the point of that deafening sound). But recently, I decided to test them while the kids were in the room, just to see their reaction. The younger ones didn't know what it was (but they do now). So let your kids hear them. They need to recognize that sound. And explain what they will sound like when the batteries get low (that annoying chirp).

  • Keep manufacturer’s instructions for reference.

Fire Drills

Make sure you run fire drills at least twice a year. And practice 'Day' drills as well as 'Night' drills. And for effect, use the actual smoke alarm to signal a fire. Maybe tell them beforehand the first few times you do this. I know it will upset the younger ones, but if you do it enough, they will get used to that sound triggering their routine. As your kids get better at it, start introducing surprise fire drills. After all, that is what the real one is going to be...a surprise. If you feel overwhelmed, consider assigning tasks to older family members. Maybe someone is responsible for calling 9-1-1. Maybe someone else is responsible for the initial headcount at the rally point. Maybe you will need help with an infant, younger children, or special needs persons. Up to you, but make sure it is drilled often, so everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Set a goal for everyone to be out in two minutes or less.

Drill your meeting or rally point as well. Make sure everyone knows which point is going to be used. For more information on this, please reference the module on Drills and Rally Plans.

Page updated: 2/4/21