Two Fire-Safety Decisions That Save Lives

Written by Posted On Monday, 21 December 2015 10:13

If you want to be truly safe from fire over the Holidays, don't go home!

More than 84% of those who died in fires in 2014 died in their homes. A sobering thought since we think of "home" as the safest place we can be.

Decades ago, seven or eight thousand people would die in home fires each year. Thanks to smoke alarms and fire safety education programs, the number has dropped to about 3000 per year, which is still too many deaths.

"We are used to working in buildings, shopping in buildings, there's hotels—all kinds of other buildings," said Lorraine Carli, Vice President of Outreach and Advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), naming places where the public correctly takes fire safety for granted. "All have sprinklers, but the home is the final frontier: How do we reduce the home fire problem?"

NFPA is currently championing a fire sprinkler initiative to make home sprinklers standard in new residential construction and to encourage retro-fitting where practical. This Massachusetts-based non-profit has been devoted to eliminating loss of life and property from fire since 1896. To accomplish this goal, NFPA:

functions as the communication and education "department" for front-line fire departments and firefighters, and

oversees development of more than 300 codes and standards, including the National Electrical Code, which are used by jurisdictions and companies across America and around the world. (FYI: These codes and standards can be viewed at no charge at

Even before sprinklers become standard equipment, Carli emphasizes that death and injury in home fires can be dramatically reduced when homeowners and their families make two simple decisions to take action to protect themselves and everyone in the home.

"In the majority of fires causing death, there was no smoke alarm or no working smoke alarm," said Carli. "The biggest things people can do are to make sure they have smoke alarms in their homes and to develop and practice home escape plans. You have as little as two minutes to get out. You want early warning and you want to be able to get out as quickly as possible. Things we put in our homes today burn faster; before we had heavy bulky furniture and natural fibers, now a lot of electronics."

The following two simple decisions will give you and your family the life-saving advantage of time if fire starts in your home:

1. Decide to have working smoke alarms to warn at the first sign of fire.Dead or missing batteries mean no alarm will sound if a fire starts. Regularly test batteries to ensure the alarm is ready to sound. Replace batteries each year — Jan 1 and Halloween are popular annual change dates. State requirements vary, but the NFPA recommends a working smoke alarm on every level of the home, inside each bedroom, and outside each sleeping area. Will your fire insurance company pay up on a claim if smoke alarms were absent, of insufficient number, or not working?

2. Decide to create a fire escape plan and share it with your family and overnight guests.Think about it. Fire drill practice regularly occurs at work and school. Why do you think you're safe at home without fire drills and escape plans? Because you know the place so well? Not true if you or your children have less than two minutes to get out of any room, on any floor.

NFPA suggests you walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Consider drawing a floor plan of your home, perhaps with help from your children, which indicates two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Add smoke alarm locations. To make this easier, download NFPA's escape planning grid (PDF, 1.1 MB).

Commit to these two lifesaving decisions — install working smoke alarms and make escape plans with your family — and you've made one huge choice: to give everyone in your home the advantage of time and forethought, so they will not become a fire statistic like the thousands who die each year.


"Eight out of 10 fire deaths take place in the home, with the majority of home fire deaths occurring late at night." NFPA suggests parents consider the following questions when their child asks, "Can I sleep over at Dana's house?" Depending on what you learn, it can either uncover serious fire dangers or give you peace of mind during your child's sleepover.

Before you say "yes"...

  • How well do you know the home?
  • Is the home clean?
  • Does it appear to be structurally sound?
  • Is the home in a safe area?
  • If the home has security bars on doors and windows, do you know for certain that the bars have quick release devices inside, so your child could get out in an emergency?
  • Is your child comfortable in the home and with all the occupants?
  • Are you comfortable leaving your child in the home overnight?

How well do you know the parent(s)?

  • Are they mature, responsible and conscientious?
  • Will they supervise the children throughout the stay?
  • Are they cautious with smoking materials, matches and lighters, and candles?

Ask the parents

  • Are there working smoke alarms on every level, inside and outside each sleeping area?
  • Are the alarms interconnected?
  • Do they have a well-rehearsed fire fire escape plan that includes two ways out and a meeting place outside?
  • Where will your child be sleeping?
  • Is there a smoke alarm in the room?
  • Are there two escape routes from the room?
  • Will the parents walk through their escape plan with your child?
  • Do the parents prohibit bedroom candle use by children?

(Sleepover Checklist reprinted with permission from NFPA)

How would you and other parents rate your home on "The Sleepover Checklist?"

All the Joy of the Season to you and your family! Happy New Year!

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PJ Wade —       Decisions & Communities

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