It’s a scenario everyone dreads: you’re home and your house is on fire. While many aspects of a house fire are unpredictable, preparing and planning for a variety of what-if scenarios can help you and your family get out of harm’s way to safety. As Part 3 of our “Fire Safety” series, here are some tips for staying safe.

Make a plan

Start by preparing for a few possible scenarios and communicating the plan with everyone in your household. Things to consider while you put together your fire evacuation plan include:

  • Possible escape routes:  In the event of a real fire, you might not be able to see well enough to exit your home or apartment easily because of smoke and flames. Think about what your first exit choice might be and then consider alternatives. In addition, FEMA recommends you consider 2 ways out for every room in the house.
  • Helping kids get out:  If you have kids in the house (or anyone who requires assistance in moving), make sure your plan includes an understanding of who’s responsible for their evacuation. Talk to older kids about what to do if they hear the smoke alarm go off and there’s no adult around to help them.
  • A meeting place: Decide on a meeting place outside your house where all members of the household can safely gather.
  • How to notify emergency services: Make sure every able-bodied member of your household knows how to dial 911.
  • Specialized equipment: If you determine that making a safe exit from a room in the house will require a specialized piece of equipment (like a collapsible rescue ladder), get that equipment in place as soon as possible so you’re ready if the time ever comes.

Lastly, make the installation, regular maintenance, and testing of your household’s smoke alarms part of your safety plan.

In the event of a house fire

If you’re home and a fire that’s beyond your power to contain starts, don’t panic. Take decisive action to follow your plan and get yourself to safety as quickly as possible. Important things to remember:

  • Get out: Don’t stop to take things with you, unless you’re in charge of another family member.
  • Check closed doors before exiting: Never open a door before checking to see if smoke is escaping underneath or if it’s warm to the touch. If the door is warm or you see smoke pouring through the cracks, DO NOT OPEN IT. Look for a different escape route. If the door is cool, open it very carefully. If there’s no heat or smoke when the door is opened, proceed along your escape route.
  • Stay low: If you must travel through smoke to exit, stay as low to the ground as possible, crawling on hands and knees toward your exit.
  • Don’t go back in: Once you’re outside to safety, do not go back into your home or building. Call 911 and wait for emergency services to arrive. Alert them if you suspect pets or people are still inside.
  • If you can’t get out: Block smoke from entering the room you’re in by covering any door openings with blankets or clothing. Cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth.
    Stand by an open window and wave a cloth or flashlight to signal emergency workers. Use your voice to help emergency personnel locate you.
  • If your clothes catch fire: Do not run! Cover your face with your hands and stop, drop, and roll until the fire is extinguished.

Thinking about how you’d respond in a true emergency isn’t relaxing business, but preparation pays off in situations where you have only moments to act. Take precautions, plan ahead, and do whatever you can to keep you and your loved ones safe.

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our “Fire Safety” series for more great tips.

Safe and smart | Home safety


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.