Fire Safety: What Every Parent Should Know

Did you know that every 76 seconds, a home catches fire somewhere in the U.S.?¹ And that kids are at especially high risk in fires? (According to government statistics, about 3650 children ages 14 or younger are killed or injured in residential fires every year.²)

Okay, that's the scary news. Now for the good news: many residential fires can be prevented by taking some basic precautions, like these, which we've learned from leading fire experts. You may already be taking many of these steps…but read on…a few may surprise you; and for even more safety ideas, view all of our safety collection.

20 Fast Fire Prevention Tips

  1. Mount fire extinguishers on every level of your home, and make sure all adults—and older kids—know how to use them.
  2. More home fires start in the kitchen than any other room, so make sure to keep a fire extinguisher close by.
  3. Install smoke alarms on every level.
  4. Test your smoke alarms regularly and if they require batteries, replace them.
  5. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your bedrooms (required by law in some states).
  6. Get a fire safety blanket to store in your child's bedroom. It can shield your child during an escape, or even extinguish a small fire.
  7. Never light candles unless you're in the room to supervise.
  8. Keep all flammables several feet away from fireplaces, space heaters, and lamps.
  9. Learn first aid and CPR
  10. If you have a multi-story dwelling, get a fire ladder. Practice using it from a ground floor window.
  11. Avoid overloading wall sockets.
  12. Cover unused electrical outlets with outlet covers. Nearly 4,000 people are hospitalized every year because of outlet-related accidents; one-third of them are caused by children inserting objects in the outlet.³)
  13. Have your chimney professionally cleaned every year.
  14. Treat electrical cords with care. Examine them regularly and replace frayed or worn corns. Loose cords are hazardous; use cord shorteners or wire guards to store them out from under furniture and carpets.
  15. Don't use extension cords permanently; extension cords are responsible for more than 3,300 residential fires every year.⁴
  16. Keep your outside grill at least three feet away from the side of the house.
  17. Clean the lint screen of your dryer every time you use it, and turn the dryer off when you leave the house.
  18. Use the correct bulbs for in light fixtures to prevent overheating.
  19. Unplug countertop appliances after each use.
  20. Make sure kitchen and bathroom outlets are protected with GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters).

In addition, experts recommend teaching kids the basics of fire safety. For example:

  • Teach your children to NEVER play with lighters, matches, or candles. (Playing with fire is the leading cause of fire-related deaths in preschoolers⁵.)
  • Make sure your kids know how and when to call 911. Practice so they know what to do and say.
  • Develop a family fire escape plan, and practice it regularly (see below). When kids panic, their instinct is not to escape but to hide, which is the worst thing to do in a fire.
  • Visit these kid-friendly websites with your child. They're packed with puzzles and games that teach kids about fire safety:

Create a Fire Safety Plan

According to firefighters, having and practicing a fire exit plan is proven to alleviate panic and reduces risk of injury during an actual fire. For example:

  • First, make a map of your home, including doors and windows. Identify two ways out of every room.
  • Review the plan with your children, and post it where they can see it. This will help them remember it.
  • Make sure your windows open easily. If your children are old enough, make sure they can open the windows in their bedrooms.
  • If your home has a second story, you need a fire ladder. Choose one that's "child-friendly" i.e., lightweight and easy to use. Store it where it's accessible.
  • Pick a meeting place outside the house, such as your mailbox or a neighbor's driveway.
  • If you have pets, your plan should include them. Identify which adult is responsible for them. The last thing you want is for a child to rush back into a fire because a pet was left behind.

In addition, kids should know the basic escape rules:

  • Get down and crawl. Smoke rises, so the air is cooler and cleaner down low.
  • Test each door before touching or opening it. Put your hand near the back of the door. If it's hot, proceed to your second exit route. If it isn't, open it slowly, but be ready to slam it shut if you see smoke or fire.
  • Never hide under beds or in closets. The goal is to escape!
  • Never to go back into a burning building.
  • Be ready to stop, drop, and roll if necessary.
  • Experts recommend practicing fire safety plans twice a year. Since most home fires happen at night, start by getting everyone in their beds, turning the lights off, and activating a smoke detector using its test switch.
  • Now, spring into action! Each family member should help wake the others by yelling an alert. Exit your rooms according to the plan, crawling low and feeling the doors for heat. Practice meeting at your designated spot.
  • Having a fire safety plan is one of the best ways you can protect your child. Because when it comes to escaping a hot fire, your child's best defense is a cool head.
  • ¹National Fire Protection Association, "Fire Loss in the United States During 2006," http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/OS.fireloss.pdf
  • ²US Fire Administration, "Child Fire Casualties," http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/tfrs/v1i17-508.pdf
  • ³Consumer Product Safety Commission, "Electrical Receptacle Outlets," http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/524.html
  • ⁴Consumer Product Safety Commission, "Extension Cords Fact Sheet," http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/16.html
  • ⁵National Fire Protection Association, "Fire Smarts," http://www.nfpa.org/riskwatch/topfireburn.html
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