All of us remember being taught fire safety as children. We were taught to stop, drop and roll if our clothing ever caught on fire. We were taught to get down on our hands and knees and crawl below the smoke if we were trapped in a fire.
But few of us know how to keep our homes from catching on fire in the first place.
I’ve never been in a house fire myself, but I did experience a loss of sorts when I discovered that my childhood home caught on fire.
After watching the first video below about how batteries can start a house fire and how to stop that from happening in your home, I decided to put together a fire safety list.
8 Fire Safety Tips to Prevent Home Fires:
1. Store Your 9 Volt Batteries Safely
If you haven’t watched the video above, be sure to watch it. You can see the additional Kids and Character fire safety videos on their YouTube channel.
But if you don’t have time to watch the full video, I’ll give you the gist of it. 9 volt batteries that are sitting in your drawers or in a bag for recycling can start a fire. They can be new or old. The 2 round terminals on the top of the battery are close together, and if they make contact with another battery’s terminals or another metal object, such as a pair of scissors in your desk drawer, they can catch on fire.
The solution is to store all loose batteries in a way that they can not touch anything else even if the contents in the drawer shift around or to place electrical tape over the metal terminals.
2. Put Smoke Detectors IN Every Bedroom
In many places, smoke detectors are only required to be in the hallway outside of the bedrooms.
The problem is, some people are very sound sleepers (especially children and teenagers) and they can sleep through a smoke detector that is going off outside of their closed door.
Over half of the children who die in fires simply never wake up. The ones who do survive, have a painful uphill battle. My friend Cathy is the Director of Therapy at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Hospital here in St. Louis. She and her staff are the ones that provide the long term care for children who have been in fires. The stories she has shared with me are real. And devastating.
In the St. Louis area, it is now fire code that every bedroom must have a smoke detector INSIDE the bedroom. The best place to put it is just inside the bedroom door, so it can detect smoke that comes into the bedroom from a fire in the hallway.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize the safety code has changed and the upgrades only happen when a home gets sold or a tenant moves IF the municipality requires an occupancy inspection. The reality is that 8 out of 10 homes that I list for sale do not have smoke detectors in every bedroom because when they bought the house the code only required the smoke detectors in the hallway outside of the bedrooms.
If you have children or teenagers, PLEASE take a look at your bedrooms and make sure that every room where someone is sleeping, including guest bedrooms, has a smoke detector. Imagine how you would feel if someone died in your home and you could have given them time to get out of the fire by having a smoke detector blast them awake.
3. Install Voice Command Smoke Detectors in Children’s Bedrooms
It really is scary that children and teens sleep through regular smoke detectors. If you aren’t a believer, simply watch this video and try the test on your own kids.
The parents in this video realized that if there was a fire when their teenager was babysitting the 3 year old, both children would likely die.
Please don’t wait. Purchase voice smoke alarms since a parent’s recorded voice WILL wake up children while smoke alarms often won’t.
4. Buy an Escape Ladder for 2 Story Homes
I’ve never actually bought an escape ladder, but I know I should get one.
I’ll never forget the story my brother Mark shared with me about the fire in his apartment complex. The buildings were 2 or 3 stories high and had exterior center stairwells made of wood. One night, some drunk partygoer for laughs started a small fire at the bottom of one of the stairwells.
The entire building went up in flames.
Mark woke up to people yelling. He and his roommate ran outside and helped stretch out blankets so people could jump out the windows. Terrifying.
If your bedroom window is more than a safe jump to the ground, or you have kids who couldn’t make the jump, buy an escape ladder.
5. Replace Old Mattresses
Not only will you sleep better on a newer mattress, but you will be safer in a fire.
In 2007, the manufacturing code changed and mattresses had to be more fire safe.
If you can’t afford to replace all of the mattresses in your house at once (yes…mattresses can be expensive!), I suggest budgeting to replace one each year until all of the old mattresses are gone. Start with anyone who is a smoker or keeps candles in the bedroom.
6. Take Your Phone with You When You Go to Bed
A few years ago I used to plug my phone into a charger in the kitchen when I headed to bed. My attitude was that no one needed to reach me during those hours and I didn’t want to be disturbed by all the beeps and noises the phone made.
At the time, I still had a landline and added a phone to the bedroom. I gave the number to my mom in case of an emergency, and I thought I was safe.
If there had been a fire, I wouldn’t have had time to go looking for my phone. Being able to quickly call 911 while I was getting out of the house could have made the difference in the home burning down vs. getting the fire department there fast enough to minimize the damage.
Of course, you should never let calling 911 slow you down in getting out of the house. But if you can take 2 seconds to dial, put it on speaker phone and then get yourself and your family out of the house, I would try it. Or maybe you decide to wait until you are completely safe (probably the right thing to do) and call 911 from outside. Either way, you’ll be glad you have your phone on you once you make it to safety.
7. Every Bedroom Needs an Egress Window
As a real estate agent, I’ve been in hundreds of homes where someone is sleeping in a room without a window to the outside. Or the room has a window doesn’t meet the requirements for an egress window.
Here’s the problem. If there is a fire and you (or your children or your guests) can’t exist the bedroom through the door due to the fire, the only way out is through a window. If there isn’t a window, they won’t make it out.
The small basement windows up near the ceiling don’t qualify as egress windows, and they shouldn’t.
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night. The room is filled with black smoke and you are disoriented from sleep and the lack of oxygen. The chances that you will be able to find the window, get it open and push something over so you can climb out is slim. Even if you have a piece of furniture sitting below the window you could climb on, the opening isn’t big enough to use to get out in good circumstances. Try getting out a tiny square when you are engulfed in smoke or there is the heat from the fire in the room.
The reality is that YOU, the adult and homeowner, is rarely the one sleeping in the room without windows. More likely it is your teenager in the basement. The same teenagers who are going to sleep through the smoke alarms. Or your guests who are using the nice guest bedroom you added to the finished basement because you need all of the bedrooms upstairs and only have guests a few times a year. But they don’t know your house…what’s the chances that they will find a way out if there is a fire?
If every person in the home doesn’t have direct access to the outside through a door or egress window, you should consider moving.
8. Replace Old Deadbolts
When deadbolt locks were first used in homes, they had to be opened with a key on both sides.
It makes sense. You don’t want someone to be able to break the window in the door or next to the door and reach over to unlock the deadbolt.
The problem is that if there is an emergency, people can get trapped in the house.
If there is a fire and the key isn’t sitting in the lock of the deadbolt, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to get that door open. Ok, maybe YOU could. You are the owner of the home and you know where you put the key. But your kids and their friends, or your friend who came over to watch the football game doesn’t know where the key is. Even if it is hanging on a peg on the wall near the door, they might not see it in their panic.
Too many people have died in fires because they couldn’t just open the door and get out.
Current fire code makes these locks obsolete. But, every year I get hired by people selling their homes and have to tell them to replace the deadbolt to one that has a turn handle from the inside because it won’t pass the municipal inspection.
This one is simple. Just go ahead and do it and everyone will be safer.
Do you have a fire safety tip? Or maybe a personal story of being caught in a fire yourself.
Share it below in the comments and let’s make everyone safer.
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Photo Credit: Fireman and house fire image in post header credit to Sam Beebe via flickr