Fire Safety

Fire Safety

Would you know what to do if a fire started in your home? Would your kids? Take the time now to review fire safety facts and tips so your family will be prepared in the event of a fire emergency in your home.

Fire Prevention

Of course, the best way to practice fire safety is to make sure a fire doesn't break out in the first place. That means you should always be aware of potential hazards in your home.

Start by keeping these tips in mind:

Electrical Appliances, Cords, and Outlets

Look around your house for potential problems. And unless you're a trained electrician, be careful about do-it-yourself electrical projects. Studies have shown that many home fires are caused by improper installation of electrical devices.

Other tips:

Portable Heaters

The number of residential fires always goes up during colder months, peaking between December and February. Portable space heaters substantially contribute to this increase. Before plugging in your space heater, make sure you know how to use it safely:

Careful in the Kitchen

Did you know that cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States? The kitchen is rife with ways for a fire to start: food left unsupervised on a stove or in an oven or microwave; grease spills; a dish towel too close to the burner; a toaster or toaster oven flare-up; a coffee pot accidentally left on.

Always supervise kids while cooking and practice safe cooking habits — like turning all pot handles in so they can't be accidentally knocked over and not wearing loose-fitting clothing that could catch fire around the stove.

Check the Fireplace

Fireplaces should be kept clean and covered with a screen to keep sparks from jumping out. Only wood should be burned in the fireplace — paper and other materials can escape while burning and ignite nearby items. Never leave a fire burning unattended and make sure a fire is completely extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed. Have the chimney professionally cleaned once a year.

Beware of Cigarettes

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of fire deaths in the United States and Canada, killing about 1,000 people per year. Most are started when ashes or butts fall into couches and chairs. If you smoke, be especially careful around upholstered furniture, never smoke in bed, and be sure cigarettes are completely out before you toss them into the trash.

Matches and Lighters

You've heard it again and again, but children playing with matches are still the leading cause of fire-related deaths and injuries for kids younger than 5. Always keep matches and lighters out of children's reach. Store flammable materials such as gasoline, kerosene, and flammable cleaning supplies outside of your home and away from kids.

Using Candles Safely

As decorative candles become more popular, candle fires are on the rise. If you light candles, keep them out of reach of kids and pets, away from curtains and furniture, and extinguish them before you go to bed. Make sure candles are in sturdy holders made of non-flammable material that won't tip over. Don't let older kids and teens use candles unsupervised in their rooms.

Be Aware of Holiday Dangers

Around the holidays, there are even more potential fire hazards to think about. If you use a real Christmas tree in your home, make sure to water it daily — electric lights strung on a dried-out tree are a recipe for disaster.

All lights and lighted window ornaments should be inspected every year to make sure that cords are not worn or frayed, and all candles should be used with care. According to the NFPA, the number of fires started by candles nearly doubles during the month of December.

Smoke Alarms

It's a fact — having a smoke alarm in the house cuts your risk of dying in a fire in half. Almost 60% of all fatal residential fires occur in homes that don't have smoke alarms, so this may be the single most important thing you can do to keep your family safe from fires.

If your home doesn't have smoke alarms, now is the time to install them on every level of your home and in each bedroom. If possible, choose one with a 10-year lithium battery. If your smoke alarm uses regular batteries, remember to replace them every year (hint: change your batteries when you change your clock back from Daylight Saving Time in the fall). Test your smoke alarms monthly, and be sure your kids are familiar with the sound of the alarm.

Because smoke rises, smoke detectors should always be placed on ceilings or high on walls. If a smoke detector near the kitchen goes off while you're cooking, do not take the battery out of it — you may forget to replace it. Open the doors and windows instead. Or you might consider installing a rate-of-rise heat detector for places like the kitchen, where smoke or steam from cooking are likely to cause false alarms. These alarms can sense when the temperature reaches a set critical point or when it rises by more than a certain number of degrees a minute.

If you're having a new home built or remodeling an older home, you may also want to consider adding a home sprinkler system. These are already found in many apartment buildings and dormitories. Carbon monoxide alarms can also be life-saving.

Fire Extinguishers

Be prepared for any accidents by having fire extinguishers strategically placed around your house — at least one on each floor and in the kitchen (this one should be an all-purpose extinguisher, meaning it can be used on grease and electrical fires), the basement, the garage, or workshop area. Keep them out of reach of children.

Fire extinguishers are best used when a fire is contained in a small area, like a wastebasket, and when the fire department has already been called. The NFPA says to remember the word PASS when operating an extinguisher:

The best time to learn how to use the fire extinguisher is now, before you ever need it (if you have any questions, the local fire department can help). Fire extinguishers have gauges on them indicating when they need to be replaced and should be checked regularly to make sure they're still functional.

If you're ever in doubt about whether to use an extinguisher on a fire, don't try it. Instead, leave the house immediately and call the fire department.

Teaching Kids the Facts About Fire

Unfortunately, many kids will try to hide from a fire, often in a closet, under a bed, or in a corner. But if taught basic fire facts, they'd be better able to protect themselves. Teach your kids that fires spread quickly, that most fire-related deaths are not from burns but from smoke inhalation, and that dangerous fumes can overcome a person in just a few minutes.

Kids should learn to:

Kids should also always be dressed for bed in flame-retardant sleepwear.

Practice Fire Drills at Home

Kids have fire drills at school and adults have them at work. Why shouldn't you have them at home, too? Fires are frightening and can cause panic. By rehearsing different scenarios, your family will be less likely to waste precious time trying to figure out what to do.

Planned escape routes are a necessity, especially if a fire were to occur during the night. Go through each room in your house and think about the possible exits. You should have in your mind two escape routes from each room, in case one is blocked by fire. Inspect the room to make sure that furniture and other objects are not blocking doorways or windows.

Make sure that the windows in every room are easy to open and are not painted over or nailed shut — remember, these may be your only way out in a fire.

If you live in an apartment building, make sure any safety bars on windows are removable in an emergency. Be sure to know the locations of the closest stairwells or fire escapes and where they lead.

If your house is more than one story tall or if you live above the ground floor of an apartment building, an escape ladder is an important safety feature. You should have one escape ladder made of fire-safe material (aluminum, not rope) in each upper-story bedroom that is occupied by a person who is capable of using it.

Like fire extinguishers, escape ladders should be operated by adults only. The ladder must be approved by an independent testing laboratory, its length must be appropriate for your home, and it must support the weight of the heaviest adult in the house.

Discuss and rehearse the escape routes you've planned for each room of your home. Designate a meeting place outside your house or apartment building that is a safe distance away (a mailbox, a fence, or even a distinctive-looking tree will do) where everyone can be accounted for after they escape.

Then, every so often, test your plan. Use your finger to set off the smoke detector and let everyone know it's time for a fire drill. See if everyone can evacuate your home and gather outside within 3 minutes — the time it can take for an entire house to go up in flames.

Be sure any babysitters in your home know all escape routes and plans in case of a fire.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning is another indoor danger. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by wood- or gas-fueled appliances (such as heaters, stoves, water heaters, or dryers) that don't burn properly, as well as by charcoal grills, automobiles, and fireplaces.

Feeling very tired (more than usual), having long-lasting headaches, nausea, and dizziness are some symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Sometimes people may think they have the flu. You should also be suspicious if other people in the house are experiencing these same symptoms at the same time.

Install CO detectors in the home near bedrooms and sleeping areas. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation, testing, and replacement of CO detectors.

If people are feeling ill and the CO alarm goes off, get out of the house immediately and call 911. Do not go back into the home until the fire department gives you the OK.

A few other tips to prevent CO exposure:

Being prepared is the best way to protect your family from a fire. So know the rules of fire prevention, stock your home with fire-safety items, and make sure your kids know what to do in a fire. A few minutes of planning now may save lives later on.

Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: July 2011





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationNational Safety Council The National Safety Council offers information on first aid, CPR, environmental health, and safety.
OrganizationU.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) This federal agency collects information about consumer goods and issues recalls on unsafe or dangerous products.
Web SiteUnited States Fire Administration for Kids This U.S. government site offers fire safety information, games, and the opportunity for kids to become junior fire marshals.
OrganizationNational Fire Prevention Association This nonprofit organization provides fire safety information and education.
Web SiteConsumer Product Safety Commission for Kids (CPSC) This portion of the CPSC's website features tips and games designed just for kids.
Related Articles
Dealing With Burns Some burns can be treated at home, but others need emergency medical care. Find out what to do by reading this printable instruction sheet.
Choosing and Instructing a Babysitter One of your most important tasks as a parent is finding a qualified babysitter. Here are some essential tips on choosing and instructing a babysitter.
Playing With Fire? Fire is hot stuff. Find out how to stay safe in this article for kids.
What to Do in a Fire It's scary to think about a fire happening at your house. But you can fight the fear - and prepare yourself - by learning the right way to handle a fire emergency. Find out more.
Household Safety: Preventing Burns, Shocks, and Fires Burns are a potential hazard in every home. In fact, burns - especially scalds from hot water and liquids - are some of the most common childhood accidents. Here's how to protect kids from burns.
Firesetting Kids often are curious about fire. So it's important for parents to educate them about the dangers of fire and keep them away from matches, lighters, and other fire-starting tools.
Babysitting: Dealing With Burns What should you do if a child you're babysitting gets burned? Our tip sheet can help you be prepared.
Burns Instruction Sheet Burns from fire or other sources of heat range from mild to life-threatening. Some burns can be treated at home; others need emergency medical care. Find out what to do in this printer-friendly sheet.
When Can I Use the Oven and Stove? Want more responsibility in the kitchen? Check out this article for kids.
Kitchen: Household Safety Checklist Use these checklists to make a safety check of your home, including your kitchen. You should answer "yes" to all of these questions.
Finding Out About Fireworks Safety Fireworks are cool to watch, but it's best to let the professionals set them off. Find out more in this article for kids.
Fireworks Safety Fireworks safety starts with the manufacturer, but it ends with you! Read these tips on handling fireworks safely and have a blast on the Fourth!
Fireworks Safety The summer heat, the smell of hamburgers on the grill, and the sound of fireworks can only mean one thing: It's the Fourth of July. Before your family celebrates, make sure everyone knows about fireworks safety.
How to Use 911 You can be a big help when someone is hurt or in danger. How? By dialing 911. Find out more in this article for kids.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter