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How and why to develop and practice fire drills at home

A fire at home can be devastating. Not only can you lose your belongings, but you can lose your life. According to Fire Prevention Canada, 78 per cent of deaths from fire occur in a house or apartment fire.

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While we try to avoid accidents as much as possible, sometimes they happen. When the accident is a house fire, how we react could mean the difference between life and death.

As parents, sometimes we might feel we’re walking a fine line between keeping our children safe and scaring them with information that could give them nightmares or cause anxiety. But with proper preparation, children can be taught what to do in case of a fire in the home, without putting any undue stress on them.

Your fire escape plan

Once you have installed and checked your safety features (such as at least one smoke detector on every level), the next thing you need to do is come up with a fire escape route. What’s equally important is practicing using that escape route during the day and at night, because things look different in the dark. Ideally you should hold these practices once a month.

Learn more about safety detectors in your home >>

Your children are already familiar with fire drills; their schools must hold them on a regular basis. Most house fires happen in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep. If you have practiced your escape route, then even if you’re sleepy, your reactions should be fairly automatic.

Know your home

Tip: Having your children draw a map of their home, marking their room and the exits, can help reinforce their awareness of their surroundings.

If there is a fire, and it is dark and smoky, familiar surroundings might seem strange and disorienting. Family members should know how many doorways are between them and the exit. That way, while crawling down the hall, they can count the doorways and know where they are.

Practice two exits where possible

Since fires can occur anywhere in the home, you should try to have two exit plans.

Stay close to the floor

You must crawl or creep along the floor if there is a fire. Smoke rises, so the best place to find air you can breathe is as low to the floor as possible. Teach young children to be snakes, creeping along the floor. By practicing this, the movements will become natural. The more you practice, the more it is reinforced.

Teach children to not hide

Children who are alone in their bedroom when a fire starts might try to hide, perhaps under a bed or in a closet. When talking about fire safety, explain to your children that if they are hiding, you or the firefighters could have a hard time finding them. Repeat this lesson as part of the fire drill.

Have a designated meeting spot

Pick a spot outside the home, far enough from danger, where all family members must meet after they evacuate the building. You could choose the old tree across the street, your neighbour’s driveway or wherever else is convenient for you and a place everyone will remember. If you don’t pre-arrange a meeting place, you might not know if everyone is out.

Reinforce that no one goes back in for anything

Pets are a beloved part of the family, and tragedy has struck many times when someone has re-entered a burning home to rescue a cat, dog or other animal. Firefighters are trained to go into these situations, and if they can save pets, they will.


It’s not usually the flames of a fire that kill; it is the smoke. Fire can overtake a home in minutes. There is no time to look for anything. If there is a fire, you must react quickly and get out, calling 911 after you have left the building.

More about home safety

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