In 2011, more than 3,000 people were killed and another 17,500 people injured by fire -- the vast majority of them inside a house.
The real tragedy in these numbers is that nearly all of these deaths and injuries are preventable. By making fire safety a priority, you can protect your home and your family from the ravages of fire and smoke. Knowing how to prevent a fire and knowing what to do when a fire breaks out can mean the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones.
By Meryl Davids Landau
When you were in your 20s and 30s, you probably ignored random aches or other minor physical annoyances, and they usually went away. But now those symptoms can come back — often with a different cause, and calling for more serious attention.
There are two vital steps you can take right now to significantly reduce your family's risk of dying or being injured if a fire breaks out in your home:
Develop and have everyone routinely practice an escape plan.
Install and make sure you properly maintain smoke alarms.
Getting out of the house fast is essential, but you have very little time to react. A small flame can turn into an out-of-control fire in less than 30 seconds. And within a matter of minutes, your entire home can be engulfed in flames and toxic smoke.
Fatal fires often start late at night or early in the morning when people are asleep. Properly working smoke alarms can wake the entire family while there is still time to get out of the house. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one third of fire-related deaths are in homes without smoke alarms.
But once people in your home are aware of the fire, they also need to know what to do. The environment created by a fire is confusing, disorienting, and potentially deadly. Creating and practicing an escape plan will help everyone, including children, stay focused on what they need to do to get out.
Fire Safety: Creating an Escape Plan
The goal of an escape plan is to make sure everyone can get out of the house as quickly as possible in the event of a fire. You can use paper to create a floor plan of your house and then decide the best way to exit each room. Be sure to pick two exits from each room -- a primary exit that would be the most direct way out of the house, and an alternative exit in case the main one is blocked by fire.
For instance, you might choose a window that can be climbed out of as a backup exit. A room that's on an upper floor should have a collapsible ladder that can be used for a window exit if there is no other way down and the main escape is blocked. Any security bars on windows and doors should have a quick release device and everyone should know how to remove the bars quickly.