More than 4,000 Americans die each year in fires -- and another 20,000 are injured. But just having a smart escape plan in place can help to vastly increase you and your family's safety if a fire occurs. Here are some things to remember.
In the event of a fire, remember that time is the biggest enemy, and every second counts! An escape plan will help you get out of your home quickly -- but only if you can put it into action. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. From there, it only takes minutes for a house to fill with thick black smoke and become engulfed in flames.
Get out immediately
Take the safest exit route, but if you must escape through smoke, remember to crawl low, under the smoke, and keep your mouth covered. The smoke contains toxic gases which can disorient you or -- even worse -- overcome you.
Seconds count -- so you unfortunately don't have time to run around searching for the family pet. Instead, get some pet safety alert decals to let rescue services know you have a cat, dog or bird who needs assistance.
Never open doors that are hot to the touch
Even if the door feels cool, open it carefully. Brace your shoulder against the door and open it slowly. If heat and smoke come in, slam the door and make sure it is securely closed, then use your alternate escape route.
Rehearse escaping from every room
Also make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and that security bars can be properly opened. In addition, practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
An escape plan for people with special needs
Security bars require special precautions
Windows and doors with security bars must have quick-release devices to allow them to be opened immediately in an emergency. Make sure everyone in the family understands and practices how to properly operate and open locked or barred doors and windows.
Designate a meeting place outside and take attendance
Pick one person to go to a neighbor's home to phone the emergency services (or use a nearby fire alarm box).
"And stay out!"
If someone is missing, tell the firefighters. They are equipped to perform rescues safely. (Got kids? Teach your children not to hide from the firefighters!)
Finally, having working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home dramatically increases your chances of survival. Smoke alarm batteries need to be tested every month and changed with new ones at least once a year. Also, consider replacing the entire smoke alarm every ten years, or as the manufacturers guidelines recommend.
Don't bet on it
Finally, don't try hiding from a fire. Flames are the greatest experts ever at hide and seek -- and they play for keeps.
Portions of this article were adapted from information provided by the US Fire Administration (USFA).