The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) estimates that a home fire occurs once every 88 seconds. What would you do if your home were to catch on fire? Do you have an evacuation plan in place? Would your family know what to do?
Home fires are more common during cooler months when we spend more time indoors. Between 2012-2016, 47% of home structure fires occurred between November and April.
Fire Prevention Week is October 6-12, offering an opportunity for all of us to brush up on our fire safety and prevention know-how.
What to Do During a Fire
Stopping a fire before it starts is the best thing you can do to practice fire safety. However, if a fire starts in your home, you and your family must know what to do because every second counts.
1. Extinguish flames if you can do it safely.
If a fire starts in your home, your first step should be to call the fire department immediately. Then, assess whether it’s safe to put out the blaze yourself. You can use a fire extinguisher to put out small flames, but proceed with caution and trust your instincts. If there’s a lot of smoke and heat, get yourself and others to safety immediately.
2. Rescue people and pets first.
The only things that can’t be replaced in a fire are living things. Take care of people and pets first, giving special attention to those who need the most help, such as children or elderly family members. If you have enough time to do it safely, grab important documents: driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, photo albums, etc. Otherwise, saving a life is much more important than saving a material item.
3. Stop, drop, and crawl.
In house fires, smoke and heat are often more dangerous than the actual flames. According to the Department of Homeland Security, room temperatures can hit 100 degrees at floor level and reach up to 600 degrees at eye level. Heavy smoke and poisonous gas collect at ceiling level, so crawl on the ground under smoke as you make your way to an exit.
4. Test doorknobs.
In the event of a fire, you should never open a door without first touching the doorknob. If it’s hot, it’s probably not safe to enter the room. Opening doors can also increase airflow, allowing fire to spread more quickly.
5. Remain calm.
Panicking in an emergency makes it difficult to think clearly and make decisions. A fire is undeniably terrifying, but try to remain calm and focus on taking the proper steps to get you and others to safety.
If you’re trapped in a room during a fire, remember to:
- Close the door and seal any cracks or vents with towels, clothing, or blankets to keep out smoke.
- Dial 9-1-1 to alert authorities that you’re in the building if you have access to a phone.
- Yell for help if you don’t have a phone.
- Hang a piece of clothing out the window to signal emergency responders if you have access to a window.
5. Get out—and stay out.
Once you and your loved ones are out, stay out. It’s far too dangerous to go back inside. Firefighters will be able to go inside to try to salvage anything they can. Remember to stand back at least 75 feet. An explosion, while uncommon, could cause injury if you’re standing too close.
How to Prevent a Fire
Fire safety begins with prevention. Follow these tips to prevent a house fire and ensure that you and your family stay safe.
1. Create a fire evacuation plan.
According to an NFPA survey, only one out of three American households has created and practiced a fire evacuation plan. Do you have a fire evacuation plan in place for your home? It could save your life.
- Identify at least two alternative ways to exit each room in your home if fire or smoke blocks the primary route. Alternative methods might include a collapsible ladder to escape from second-story windows or a window that opens to a neighboring roof.
- Make sure windows are not stuck, screens can be removed quickly, and security bars can be opened.
- Practice feeling your way out of your home in the dark or with your eyes closed.
- Teach children not to hide from firefighters.
2. Make sure smoke alarms are in working order.
Between 2012-2016, 40% of home fire deaths were the result of fires in homes where no smoke alarms were present. 17% of home fire deaths were the result of fires in homes where smoke alarms were present, but not working.
A working smoke alarm can detect a fire early, significantly increasing your chances of survival.
- Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm with ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors to detect flaming and smoldering fires.
- Make sure there are fire alarms and smoke detectors on every level of your home, including the basement.
- Test batteries monthly and replace batteries in fire alarms and smoke detectors at least once a year. Units should be replaced every eight to 10 years, or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking.
3. Practice cooking safety.
Year after year, cooking continues to be the leading cause of home structure fires, having caused almost half of all home fires between 2012-2016. Cooking is also the leading cause of unreported fires, according to survey data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Don’t leave appliances unattended.
- Keep heat sources (stovetops, ovens, toasters, toaster ovens, electric skillets, deep fryers, etc.) clear of flammable items such as towels, pot holders, paper towels, wooden spoons, paper packaging, and plastic bags.
- Clean stovetops, ovens, and pots and pans regularly to remove food particles, spills, oil, and grease.
- Remember to turn off heat sources when you’re finished using them.
- Allow small appliances to cool before storing them.
4. Ensure electrical components are working properly.
Electrical distribution and lighting equipment (wiring, outlets, switches, and cords) were responsible for just 10% of home structure fires between 2012-2016, but they caused the most damage at $1.3 billion in direct property damage per year.
Make sure your home’s electrical distribution and lighting systems are working properly.
- Replace old, damaged, or worn wiring, cords, and cables immediately.
- Immediately replace flickering lights and light switches that are hot to the touch.
- Don’t run cords under rugs or furniture.
Most home improvement beginners can handle these repairs as long as they have basic knowledge and proceed with caution, but hiring an electrician will ensure that the job is done correctly.
5. Be cautious with controlled fires.
Cities have different ordinances when it comes to permitting recreational or controlled fires, especially in dry climates like Southern California and the Southwest. It’s crucial to take controlled fire safety seriously.
- Inspect woodstove pipes and chimneys each year. Check for damage or obstructions monthly.
- Use a fireplace screen that is sturdy enough to stop rolling logs and large enough to cover the entire opening on the fireplace.
- Water down the surrounding area before having an outdoor fire to prevent sparks from igniting.
- Completely extinguish fires before going to bed or leaving the house. This includes fireplaces and outdoor fire pits.
6. Teach kids fire safety tips.
Children should understand the basics of fire safety and know that fire is a tool, not a toy. Additionally:
- Teach kids not to hide from firefighters.
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach.
- Never leave children unattended near open flames or operating stoves, even if only for a minute.
7. Protect important documents.
Make digital copies of important documents: driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, licenses, even family photos. If a fire ever does destroy your home, a record of valuable documents means one less thing you’ll have to worry about. Store these documents on a cloud-based storage service, such as Google Drive.
8. Outfit your home with fire safety products.
There are plenty of fire safety products on the market designed to keep homeowners and renters safe, including:
- Fire extinguishers. Keep fire extinguishers in the kitchen and on every level of your home, ideally near bedrooms.
- Fire blanket. Use a fire-retardant blanket to extinguish a small fire by smothering flames before they can grow.
- Smoke detectors. Install smoke detectors that contain ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors, which detect both flaming and smoldering fires.
- Fire escape ladders. If you live in a home with more than one story, keep a fire escape ladder accessible in upstairs areas so you can quickly and safely escape out of a window.
- Home sprinkler systems. An automatic home fire sprinkler system can significantly reduce flames and heat. Installing a sprinkler system in your home is an especially smart decision if you live in an area prone to wildfires. Plus, it can also help you save money on homeowners insurance.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Fire Damage?
Most standard homeowners insurance policies will pay to repair and replace your home and belongings in the event of a fire. Homeowners insurance typically provides:
- Dwelling coverage for the structure of your home, plus any attached structures, such as a garage.
- Other structures coverage for structures on your property that aren’t connected to your home, such as sheds, gazebos, detached garages, and fences.
- Personal property coverage for your personal belongings, including furniture, appliances, and clothing.
Home Protection Devices Can Help You Save Money on Insurance
Did you know having fire safety and prevention devices like smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in your home can help you save money on homeowners insurance? You could save money on your annual premium just by having devices including:
- Smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- Sprinkler systems
Your home could be full of potential discounts. In addition to fire safety device discounts, Personal Express Insurance offers insurance discounts for:
- Security systems, including central and self-monitored security systems
- Deadbolt locks
- Backup generators
- Temperature monitoring systems, such as a smart thermostat
- Automatic water shut-off systems
- Gas leak detection devices
- Living in a gated community
You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it. In addition to practicing a fire evacuation plan with your family, talk with a Homegrown Pro to make sure you’re carrying enough coverage—and take advantage of all the great discounts Personal Express offers while you’re at it. For more information or a free homeowners insurance quote, visit your local Personal Express office or call 1-800-499-3612.