Preparing for and handling a home fire

Question from Kenny C. from West Clay:

The freak explosion on the south side has me trying to figure out a plan for my family if we are involved in a home fire.  I don’t know where to start.  Got any advice?

Response from Jamie Ianigro:

You’re a step ahead of a lot of people.  Advanced planning is one of the most important factors in protecting your family from fire.  Home fires injure over 13,000 people a year and kill nearly 3,000. The people most at risk are those over age 65 and children preschool age and younger.

The first thing you need to worry about when it comes to protecting your family is smoke alarms.  Every home should have at least one smoke alarm.  Most codes now require that a smoke alarm be placed on every floor of the home. Test the batteries on your smoke alarms monthly and replace the alarm every ten years. Make sure you always install new alarms according to the manufacturer’s directions.

With all of your smoke alarms working, you need to create an escape plan. Make sure everyone in your family understands what to do when the smoke alarm goes off. Practice your escape plan in the dark so that you all know what to expect and how to navigate the home without electricity. Here are some things to keep in mind when coming up with your plan.

► Know two ways out of each room.  Have an escape ladder for any bedrooms above the ground floor.  Make sure children are familiar with opening the windows.

► Feel the door for heat before opening it. If the door is not hot, open it slowly and take your normal escape route.  If the door is hot, take your backup route.

► Crawl if there is smoke. Most fire victims succumb to smoke and toxic gases. Stay below the smoke by crawling.

► Have an arranged meeting place outside the house.  Make sure everyone knows it.

► DON’T GO BACK INSIDE. Let the fire department handle it from here.

Lastly, insurance. Your independent insurance agent is going to be there to help you rebuild your life after a terrible loss, like a fire. It is important to make sure your insurance limits are adequate and up-to-date. Insurance policies are concerned with the cost of rebuilding your home (not to be confused with the market value).  Be sure to review your policy with your agent annually.

Your contents (furniture, clothes, etc) value is usually set at half of the rebuilding cost.  Sometimes this limit can be inadequate and needs to be increased.  Your independent insurance agent can provide a simple home inventory form to help figure out if you need to increase your contents limit.  For more information on fire prevention, visit usfa.dhs.gov or call your independent insurance agent.