"A properly planned and frequently practiced exit drill involving all of your family can make the difference between life and death in the event of a sudden house fire."
Waking up in the early hours of the morning to the smell of smoke, glare of fire, and the sudden intense heat is not the ideal time to formulate a plan for exiting your home. Moments like these are filled with panic and confusion. The prior moments of inhaling smoke can cause periods of confusion and indecision, compounding the panic. The most ideal time to develop and practice your emergency exit plan is at your next opportunity.
You can start by drawing a floor plan of each floor in your home. Label each window and door clearly in the plan. Draw each bathroom and closet door as well. Designate two exits for each room, even if one is a door and the other a window. Draw in the shortest distance from each exit to the outside of the home.
Count the number of doors and turns from each bedroom to the exit. It may be necessary to crawl through dark smoke, rendering you blinded by the smoke, causing you to have to feel your way out.
For upper level stories, consider any trees or construction factors that may impede a successful exit through that opening. Be aware of security bars on the window that do not have a quick-release mechanism to disable or remove them from the inside in the event of an emergency exit. Many security bars will keep persons from being able to escape. For upper levels, consider purchasing fire-resistant emergency ladders that can be deployed from the inside of each room to allow a safe exit from a window.
Apartments may have predefined exit strategies in halls and corridors. Check for them and memorize the route. Practice taking that specific route occasionally when leaving your apartment.
Remember, your safest and quickest emergency exit may not necessarily be through the main entrance; it may be a nearby window.
Choose and designate a meeting place outside. It may be your neighbor's mailbox or a street sign or other landmark that doesn't move and is easy to find and recognize. Have clear instructions to your family that when you exit the home, do NOT go back into your home. Go to the meeting place and wait for others.
With home improvements and additions or with the arrival of guests or new family members, adjustments to your exit plan may be necessary.
If there are small children in the home, then designate one parent to assist each child. Have it designated in advance which parent will get which child to avoid confusion. In a house fire, children have a tendency to hide under a bed or deep within a closet. If you enter your child's bedroom during a structure fire and do not find them, if you have time before having to exit, inspect the closet and under the bed an other hiding places.
For disabled or mobility-impaired persons, have signs placed in windows designating that room as having a person who may not be able to exit the structure on their own in the event of a fire. Persons who are mobility impaired should sleep on the ground floor, if possible.
Practicing Your Exit Plan
Your escape plan should eventually grow to work automatically after practice. Practice drills should be conducted with the entire family at least once per calendar quarter. This not only keeps the drill plan fresh in the minds of your family, but allows you to practice in different weather conditions, from warm to cold temperatures in case there are some weather related complications.
Remember to practice at different times of the day, especially at night after bedtime. On a night that is not a school night, such as a Friday, activate the test button of the smoke detector after bedtime to evaluate everyone's responsiveness from a sleepy state.
Consider blocking some exits with signs that say SMOKE or FIRE, or otherwise disabling exits to practice using secondary escape routes.
Consider crawling along floor space with blindfolds, simulating a full blanked of dark smoke that extends all the way to the floor. It may be necessary to feel your way out of the structure, feeling each bedroom and closet door frame until you reach a more visible area.
Your time goal for everyone to exit should be less than three minutes.
Safety and Escape Tips
Most fire-related deaths are caused by inhaling smoke, not by contact with fire. In a house fire, there will be a layer of smoke and heat extending from the ceiling down to the floor. The closer you are to the floor, the farther you are away from the smoke and heat. You must crawl under the heat and smoke approximately 12-24 inches off of the floor.
Sleep with your doors shut. It takes about 10-15 minutes for fire to burn through a wooden door, giving more time for the smoke detector to alert occupants and for you to make your exit.
If you find yourself trapped in a room with no exit and fire on the other side of the door, stuff clothing and towels under the door to prevent as much smoke from coming through. The smoke generated from a typical residential structure fire is toxic and will make you cough, produce mucus, and asphyxiate you if not stopped.
Unlike as portrayed in television and film, typical house fires are filled with thick black smoke that renders the occupant practically blind. Practicing an exit plan enough will help your family find their way to clearer areas without being able to see.