Prepare And Practice Evacuation Plans

The following is the third in a series about Fire Safety. The information has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Freeholder H. James Polos, Chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee, and Michael Gallagher, County Fire Marshal.

MIDDLESEX COUNTY — Since the beginning of this year, Middlesex County has mourned the fire-related deaths of 11 County residents.

These fires gave no advanced warning, did not discriminate on age, race, color or creed. Everyone is vulnerable to the effects and consequences of fire.

The entire community mourns when a family suffers tragic loss due to a fire. The sad truth is that any household in any community can fall victim to a fire.

What is most alarming is that so many fire-related deaths are preventable. There are things that we as individuals, families and communities can do to prevent fires and prepare for those that do happen.

Over the course of this series, you will be provided with safety tips that can prevent fires from happening, and could ultimately save lives.

Safety Tip #3

Fire can spread rapidly through your home leaving you as little as two minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds.

Your ability to get out of harm’s way depends on advance warning from smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in addition to advance planning, which includes a fire escape plan.

All household members should partake in the creation of this plan and routinely practice its implementation. Children, especially younger children, require direction and training so they can act quickly and decisively during an emergency. They have trouble waking even at the sound of an alarm. If frightened, they may even hide. You must emphasize their immediate departure from the residence. Their number one priority is to get out of the house and get to safety.

Your plan should also include the elderly, disabled and individuals that have difficulties hearing without hearing aids, or household members that may be on certain medications. Practice assisting or removing these individuals and incorporate these issues as a part of your plan.

Once outside, call 9-1-1. Make sure to practice escaping from each room in the house, through all available exits. Windows offer another escape route. If a window is located above ground level, fire escape ladders should be obtained and made available. Practice utilizing these devices as part of your escape plan. The United States Fire Administration recommends practicing fire drills in the home at least once a month.

Your escape plan should include such things as informing family members to always feel a door with the back of the hand before opening. If it is hot, leave it closed and utilize a secondary exit.

Practice this in the form of a game so younger children will tend to be more engaged and receptive.

Point to the location of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and portable fire extinguishers and demonstrate their proper use.

If the dwelling has a basement with upper windows, make sure that furniture or stepladders are accessible.

Your escape plan should include a meeting point somewhere outside at a safe distance from your home. This will allow you to confirm that all family members have successfully escaped. Try to choose an area near the front of the house without crossing a street if possible. Make certain that the selected area is accessible throughout all seasons and does not impede the path of the first responder.

The evacuation plan should be placed in an area where it can be seen by everyone. Again, plan an evacuation drill at least once a year. Make certain that all windows can open. Keep windows and exit doors clear from obstructions inside and outside. In the winter, make sure to remove ice or any other obstacles that may impede utilizing the window as an escape route. As a reminder, bars and security devices can prevent burglars from accessing your home, but they also prevent you from exiting.

Doors that require a key to unlock them from the inside can endanger your life during a fire. Toys and other objects left in front of bedroom doors, on the stairs and exit paths also prevent you from exiting safely during a fire. Parents or guardians should be vigilant in clearing these paths before retiring for the evening.

When smoke engulfs a room, is it almost impossible to navigate safely from that room. Practice crawling in the room to your exit with your eyes closed. You might discover that you don’t know your home as well as you thought.

Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility. It is important to practice fire safety and prevention in the home as well as to be prepared to respond if a fire should occur.

Now might be a good time to make and practice a fire escape plan.

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