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Creating a Fire Escape Plan

A house fire can be one of the most devastating events that can happen to your home and family.  According to FEMA, each year more than 2,500 people die and 12,600 are injured in home fires in the United States, with direct property loss due to home fire estimated at $7.3 billion annually. If a fire breaks out, you could have as little as two minutes to escape your home.

Remember that every second counts in the event of a fire, so you and your family should be prepared.  Have an escape plan and practice it twice a year.  Some tips to consider when creating your plan:

  • Walk through the home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Families with children should consider drawing a floor plan of the home, indicating two ways out of each room. 
  • If the primary escape is blocked, you will need a second way out which could be a window, a collapsible ladder, or a neighboring structure.
  • Only purchase collapsible ladders evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, like Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Make sure that windows are not stuck, that screens can be easily removed, and that any security features can be quickly disabled.  Also, make sure that everyone in the family knows how to operate and unlock the windows.
  • Have everyone practice feeling their way out of the house in the dark or with eyes closed.
  • Make sure children know how important it is not to hide from a firefighter.
  • If there are infants or elderly in the home, assign someone to assist them in the event of an emergency. 
  • Choose an outdoor meeting place (a neighbor's house, light post or mailbox) a safe distance in front of the home where everyone can meet after they've escaped.
  • Install smoke detectors on every level of your home and check the batteries twice a year.

During a Fire

When seconds count, remember these tips:

  • Keep low to the ground and crawl to the exit - heavy smoke and toxic gases collect at the ceiling.
  • When the alarm sounds get out fast.
  • If the first exit is blocked by smoke or flames, use the second way out.
  • Before opening a door, feel the door and doorknob; if either is hot to the touch, leave the door closed and use the second way out.  If you see smoke coming around the door, do not open it.
  • If you do open a door, do it slowly and be prepared to close it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present.
  • If you can't get to someone who needs assistance, get out fast and call 911 and tell the operator where the trapped person is located.
  • If your pets are trapped, tell the firefighters. Don't try to get to them yourself.
  • If you can't escape the room, close the door and cover vents and cracks around the door with a cloth to keep the smoke out.  Call 911 and stay where you are.  Signal for help at the window with a light or a light-colored cloth.
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll.  Roll over and over until the flames are out.  If someone else needs help and can't drop, smother the flames with a blanket or towel.  Use cool water to treat the burns and get medical help immediately.

After a Fire

Recovering from a fire can be draining, both physically and mentally.  Lives are turned upside down and often the hardest part is knowing where to begin and who to contact.  Here are some quick reference tips:

  • Contact your local disaster relief service, such as the Red Cross, if you need temporary housing, food or medicine.
  • If you are insured, contact your insurance agent or company for instructions on protecting the property, conducting an inventory, and contacting an experienced fire damage restoration company like ServiceMaster Dynamic Cleaning.
  • Check with the fire department to make sure that your home is safe to enter and to make sure that utilities are safe to use or have been properly disconnected.
  • Conduct an inventory of damaged property and possessions.  Do not dispose of any damaged items until after an inventory has been made and your adjuster has been notified.
  • If you leave the home, alert your local police department that the site will be unoccupied.
  • Notify your mortgage company of the fire and save receipts for any money spent related to the loss.

In addition to the damage that a fire can cause to structures and possessions, the smoke and soot can stain and ruin belongings and parts of your home that the fire never touched.  And unfortunately every day homeowners experience the horror of fire even as most people don't understand fire.  To protect yourself it is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire.  These facts may seem obvious, but nevertheless it is very important to remember that:

Fire is Fast!

It is extremely important to remember that fire is fast.  In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and become a major inferno.  And it only takes a few minutes for thick, black smoke to fill a house as the home is engulfed in flames.  Most deadly fires occur when people are asleep in their homes.  There is no time to grab possessions, but only to escape and survive.

Fire is Hot!

Heat is often more threatening than flames because a fire's heat alone can kill.  As the fire intensifies, room temperature can be 100 degrees at floor level, rising to over 600 degrees at eye level.  Trying to breathe this super-hot air can scorch your lungs and the heat can melt clothes to your skin.  Within five minutes the room can be ignited by a flashover, where the temperature is so hot that everything ignites at once.

Fire is Dark!

Fire isn't light - it's pitch black.  It may start out bright but the flames quickly produce thick, dark smoke and total darkness.  The smoke and lack of visibility can disorient you and make it difficult to get out safely, even in the home you've lived in for years.

Fire is Deadly!

More people are killed by smoke and toxic gases than by flames.  Fire will use up a room's oxygen and produce smoke, making it difficult to breathe.  Even breathing small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you short of breath and disoriented.  Fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames have even reached the room and you may not wake up in time to escape.  In fact, asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.

For more information on what you should do after a home fire, including valuing your property, replacing documents, and salvage hints, visit the U.S. Fire Administration.

While we sincerely hope that your home never suffers from fire damage, if the worst happens, rest assured that ServiceMaster Dynamic Cleaning will be there to help.  We have years of experience and certified technicians who know exactly what to do to get your home back to normal.  We work with your insurance adjuster to make sure that your possessions are inventoried and that anything that can be salvaged will be, whether the contents are cleaned on-site or brought back to our facility for cleaning and storage.  Our goal is to keep you in your home when possible and if not, to get you back home quickly.  Call (800) 865-5157 or contact us now and we'll be there to help.