Knowing what to do in a fire can save your life. If you can extinguish the fire, do so thoroughly. If not, run for safety and call for help. To make your way through a fire, crawl beneath the smoke and be sure to avoid going through doors that are hot.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, house fires are responsible for more than 2,500 fatalities per year.1 But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are fire protection steps you can take to keep your family safe in the event of a home fire.
Of course, prevention is the best step toward fire safety, but in case of a fire in your home, you’ll need to know exactly what to do. Let’s go through the steps.
- Extinguish the Fire If Possible
- If the fire has just sparked—for example, a pan catches fire on the stove—you may be able to contain it. Grab your fire extinguisher and remember to PASS: pull the pin, aim at the base of the flames, squeeze the extinguisher handle, and sweep from side to side until the fire is extinguished. Make sure that the fire is completely out and not still smoldering. Crawl Beneath the Flames to Escape
Fire produces smoke and poisonous gases that can cause lightheadedness or loss of consciousness if inhaled—both of which can cause issues if you’re trying to get out of a burning building. To escape a fire and its fumes, crawl to the closest exit, remembering that it may be a window. Staying low to the ground will help protect you from inhaling smoke and toxic gases.
- Check Doors and Doorknobs for Heat
If you must go through a door to get to an exit, check if the door is hot. If the door (or doorknob) is warm to the touch, there could be fire raging on the other side, so do not go through it. If you open a door and see fire or smoke, shut the door and go to a second exit.
- Run to Safety
Once you make your way outside, run away from the fire to safety. Part of the house or apartment, like the roof or siding, may catch fire and fall around the perimeter of the building, so run across the street or down the block to safety.
- Call for Help
Once you have made it away from the fire, call 911. If you don’t have a cellphone, go to a neighbor’s house and ask to borrow a phone. Tell the operator that there’s been a fire at your address, and then keep the line open to see if they need any other information.
What to Do If You Are Trapped Inside
If you end up trapped, cover the cracks around the door with whatever you can find: blankets, jackets, towels, etc. If you can wet the fabric down, do so. Cover vents with wet blankets as well, to keep smoke from seeping into the room, and call 911 if you have access to a phone.
In the event that you get stuck on an upper story of a building, hang sheets or anything large enough to capture people’s attention out the window to let firefighters know where you are. Do not attempt to make your way through the fire.
If your clothes catch on fire, you should immediately stop, drop, and roll: stop where you are, drop to the ground, and roll to extinguish the flames. Cover your face with your hands as you roll, as well, to further protect yourself from flames.
How to Prevent a Fire in Your Home
We hope that you never have to face this life-threatening situation. To decrease the likelihood of that happening, there are many preventative fire safety steps that you can take.
- Check Your Smoke Alarms
A working smoke alarm can save your life. The National Fire Protection Association reports that 38% of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes that didn’t have any smoke alarms, and another 21% occurred in homes with smoke alarms that didn’t work.2 Of those smoke alarms that did not work, nearly half had dead or disconnected batteries. These numbers show just how important it is to have well-maintained and functional smoke detectors throughout your home.
Choose a high-quality smoke alarm for each floor of your house (including the basement), and outside of each bedroom. Use both types of smoke alarms—ionization and photoelectric—or hybrid alarms for added safety, and test the alarms monthly.
Did you know that not only the batteries but also the alarms themselves should be replaced periodically? On the back of your alarm is a manufacture date. At ten years from that date, it’s time to dispose of the old alarm and replace it. The US Fire Administration offers guidelines on how to properly dispose of smoke alarms.
- Arm Yourself with Fire Extinguishers
Don’t let a small fire engulf your entire home if you can stop the fire at the source. A good fire extinguisher that you have taken the time to learn to use can give you and your family peace of mind.
It’s a good idea to have a secondary fire extinguisher in the kitchen, like a model that fits in the vent hood over your stove and automatically releases flame retardant in case of a fire on the stovetop. And while you’re thinking about fire extinguishers, keep in mind that each of your vehicles should have a small fire extinguisher on board as well.
- Follow Your Family’s Fire Safety Plan
Despite having fire drills at school and work, most families don’t conduct fire drills at home. Your family’s fire safety plan should include what to do when a smoke alarm goes off, how to safely exit the home, and where to meet. Practice these things together in home fire drills until everyone knows how to stay safe in the face of fire danger.
You can also download the Make Safe Happen app for more tips on teaching your children about fire safety.
Be Proactive in Preventing Home Fires
The best way to ensure fire protection is by preventing fires in the first place. Small steps add up to a safer home for you and your loved ones: switch to LED candles, avoid smoking indoors, keep an eye out for frayed wires, and teach your children about fire protection by informing them about the dangers of matches and lighters.
Now that you know what to do in case of a fire in your home, the next step is doing everything you can to make fire prevention a top priority. Consider a home security system with integrated fire protection to provide you and your family with safety and peace of mind.