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Cause for Alarm

Make fire safety priority in your home

Does your family have an escape plan in case of fire? You should. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fires and burns are the third leading cause of fatal home injury.

In 2009, fire departments responded to 377,000 residential fires in the United States, which claimed the lives of 2,565 people and injured another 13,050.

Fires can start easily, spread rapidly and intensify quickly. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a major fire. In just minutes, a house can fill with thick black smoke and become engulfed in flames.

Rebecca Kynes, an injury prevention expert at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, reminds parents that no matter how or where a fire starts, installing a smoke alarm is the first step toward keeping your family safe.

“Smoke alarms are one of the best safety devices you can use to protect your family and your home from fire,” Kynes says. “Installing a smoke alarm on every level of your house and outside of each sleeping area reduces the chance of dying in a fire by nearly half. Be sure to test smoke alarms every month and replace batteries once a year.”

Preparing your home for an emergency and teaching children about the dangers of fire and how to escape also can help prevent tragedy.

“There are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire,” Kynes says. “It’s not a question of luck. It’s a matter of preparation.”

Plan and Practice

  • Identify two escape routes out of each room of the house.
  • Assign an adult to each child, regardless of age. This is especially vital for infants or children with special health care needs or mobility problems, and teens who can easily sleep through an alarm.
  • Practice fire drills at least twice a year. “Run through the exercise so the kids learn to leave quickly and not react by hiding in a closet or under the bed,” Kynes says.
  • Designate an outside meeting place so all members of the family can be accounted for quickly.

Teach Safety

  • Children should know the sound of the smoke alarm. When they hear it, teach them to get outside quickly and crawl low if there is smoke.
  • Touch doors with the back of your hand before opening them. If the door is hot, use an alternative exit.
  • Teach children never to go back into a burning building for anything, such as a toy or pet.
  • Be sure every family member knows how to “stop, drop and roll.”
  • Teach children to never touch or play with matches, lighters, candles or gasoline.
  • Be sure to set a good example. Never smoke in bed or disconnect smoke alarm batteries.

Inspect and Eliminate Hazards

  • Never leave cooking food unattended on the stove.
  • Place candles in a safe location away from combustible materials and where children or pets cannot tip them over. Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Store all flammable liquids such as gasoline outside of the home.
  • Keep at least one or more fire extinguishers in your home.
  • Plug electric space heaters into outlets with enough capacity, and never into extension cords. Place space heaters at least 3 feet from anything that can catch fire such as curtains or papers, and always turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Replace old or frayed electrical wires and appliance cords and keep them on top of, not beneath rugs.
  • Have chimneys cleaned and inspected once a year.
  • Take special care during the holiday season, when trees, lights and candles are in use.

For more information on how to prevent a fire-related tragedy in your home, please visit

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