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Fire Drills: Practice Fire Safety

by Karen Kimball
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Practicing fire drills is a key to fire safety and protection, yet less than a quarter of families have actually developed and practiced a home fire escape plan. Each year, there are over 480,000 structural fires in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Authority. In the time it takes you to read this short article, three more buildings will be ablaze.

A small flame can spread out of control in less than 30 seconds. In a matter of minutes, thick black smoke can fill a building, producing toxic fumes that use up needed oxygen and leave victims disoriented and gasping for air. Temperatures in a fire reach up to 600 degrees:

  • hot enough to scorch lungs and melt clothing
  • hot enough to ignite an entire room instantly; killing everyone in the area

Victims of a fire can suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, burns, and even death. Dark smoke from fire makes it almost impossible to escape safely unless potential victims have planned and practiced fire escape-routes.

Fires happen at work, schools, churches, and especially at home — places where fire drills and fire safety often aren’t part of the routine. Making a fire escape plan and practicing fire drills is an easy way to protect yourself and others.

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To create a fire escape plan:

  • In each room of a building, look for all possible exits, through windows and doors. Choose two escape routes out of each room, in case fire or smoke blocks an exit. Make sure the exits you choose are easy to open and clear from debris that might block the route. Check to see that smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and fire escape ladders are working and that you know how to use them.
  • Choose a meeting place away from your home or building (such as a light post, neighbor’s mail box, or a stop sign) where everyone can meet.
  • Assign one or more "Fire Captains" (and back-up Fire Captains) to potentially assist infants, the elderly and handicapped, if that assistance can be provided without undue risk. Fire Captains should also be prepared to count who escaped the building and then convey needed information to firefighters.  No one should ever re-enter a burning building.
  • Make sure that everyone knows the escape routes and meeting place. For younger children, draw the basic house floor plan, clearly marking the escape routes and meeting place. At work, you can post escape route maps in a common area.
  • Conduct a fire drill. This should only take a few minutes. Your first fire drill should be during the day so everyone can exit safely. Practice feeling doors with the back of your hand, to see if fire or smoke is on the other side. Practice exiting via escape routes, crawling on your hands and knees, above the toxic fumes and below the intense heat. Practice feeling your way out with your eyes closed.
  • Fire drills should be practiced at least twice a year. Determine two dates each year that you will hold future fire drills. These should be dates easily remembered, such as when the time changes or on an anniversary. Mark the dates on your calendar. Publicize the dates so that others will know when to expect the fire drills.

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