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Between 2011 and 2015, US fire departments responded to almost 360,000 house fires yearly. Those fires resulted in injuries, deaths, and damages. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates deaths numbered around 2,500 and damages totaled nearly $7 billion.
Such statistics seem daunting. But don’t be afraid. You ca achieve some peace of mind by planning to defend your home against fire, should it happen. It is what Preppers do. Your plan should be comprised of three elements: preparation and prevention, reaction during a fire, and response after a fire.
How to Prepare for and Prevent a House Fire
Preparation and prevention sounds like what it is. Use the following seven steps to secure your home and protect your family to minimize or thwart the threat of a fire:
- Create an emergency communications document. During a fire, everything turns chaotic, and you may lose track of family members. Ensure everyone knows whom to contact by creating a list of emergency response and family members’ numbers. Have a designated safety place (no, not a safe space) where everyone meets after they evacuate. It can be the mailbox, as long as it isn’t attached to the structure, or the end of the driveway, or anyplace close but away from the house.
- Inspect your home. Walk around your home and look for frayed wires and out-of-date sockets. Electrical fires aren’t as common as cooking fires, but they leave just as much devastation in their wake. Prevent their occurrence by replacing faulty wiring, purchasing surge protectors, and plugging appliances into a separate electrical outlets so you don’t overload a breaker.
- Invest in smoke alarms. When it comes to fire prevention, you should buy and install devices designed to aid your home safety endeavors. One of these is the smoke alarm, which the NFPA recommends installing in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of the home.
- Purchase other home safety devices. Besides smoke alarms, consider other home safety products, such as fire extinguishers and fire sprinkler systems. The latter requires the assistance of a professional technician, but it can save your home and people’s lives in the event of a fire.
- Perform routine maintenance. Home safety equipment only works when it’s well maintained, so create a checklist for smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. Smoke alarms should be tested every month, and their batteries changed every year. Fire extinguishers should also be examined every month to make sure they contain enough pressure to put out a fire.
- Teach your family the escape routes. The American Red Cross advises that you teach your family two ways of escape, along with a set meeting point outside the home. Once set, you should review the routes at least once a year.
- Review basic safety measures. In addition to developing escape routes, practice safety measures. These range from “stop, drop, and roll” to best practices for getting out of a burning building—for example, crawling along the floor when smoke fills the hallway and not touching a doorknob with a bare hand.
What to Do in the Event of a Fire
Using the seven steps outlined above prevents and prepares you for a house fire. But when one occurs, take immediate action with the seven steps shared below:
- Use a fire extinguisher. If the fire is small and you know how to use a fire extinguisher, put your skills to use. Extinguishing the fire reduces structural damages and the risk of injuries or death.
- Escape the home. If you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher or have no way of getting to it, escape from your home immediately. You always have less time than you think to get out of a burning structure safely.
- Let other people know about the fire. You may have heard the smoke alarm go off, but other family members might not have. Because of that, yell “fire” as you leave the home so your loved ones know to take action.
- Protect your hands and lungs. If a closed door or its doorknob feels warm to the touch, leave it closed. And, if smoke fills the home, duck low and scramble your way to safety. If you become trapped in your home, go to a clear room and close the door behind you to reduce your risk of smoke inhalation.
- Stay out of the home. Once you escape your home, don’t reenter it. Going back inside only puts yourself and others in danger.
- Call for help. When you get outside your home, call 911. The fire department owns the necessary gear and training to enter your home and rescue people or pets that may be stuck inside.
- Know your backup plan. Smoke, fire, or debris can sometimes block your exit routes. When that occurs, stay in the room, close the door, and call 911. Then, open a window and signal for aid with a brightly colored cloth or flashlight.
How to Respond after a Fire
No one wants to experience a house fire, but knowing how to respond to one after the fact makes a difference. A well-thought-out response plan can alleviate some of the stress, worry, and fear. Employ the seven steps listed here to mend physically and emotionally from a fire:
- Seek medical attention. If anyone’s hurt, burned, or coughing, get medical aid to prevent infection or additional injury.
- Call friends and family. Always let your loved ones know you’re safe. It’ll not only alleviate their fears but also give them a chance to help you recover.
- Enter your home when it’s declared safe. You should return to your home only after the local fire authority signs off on it.
- Assess how people are doing. Everyone responds to trauma differently, so try to stay in tune to how people are feeling. If needed, seek the assistance of a licensed counselor to start healing from the emotional toll.
- Inspect your home. Once you can reenter your home, check it for structural damage. Also examine your telephone, electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems. Go through household items; gather chemicals, medicines, and foods that were exposed to heat, smoke, or soot; and dispose of these items properly.
- Call your insurance agent. The insurance agent will walk through your home and inventory damaged items, so don’t throw away anything until they arrive. The agent may also want to see photos and receipts related to items lost in the fire.
- Clean your home. Some repairs and cleaning you can do yourself. However, wet drywall and insulation require professional assistance. To figure out whether you should DIY or call in the pros, use the American Red Cross’s guide for cleaning up after a fire.
The thought of a house fire is frightening, but you can take proactive steps to manage the fear. By following the tips outlined here, you’ll decrease your risk of a house fire as well as increase your chances of escaping and recovering from one.