Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die and more than
25,000 are injured in fires, many of which could be prevented.
Direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $8.6 billion
To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basic
characteristics of fire. Fire spreads quickly; there is no time
to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes,
a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a
residence can be engulfed in flames.
Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the
flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire
produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy.
Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may fall into a deeper
sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths,
exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.
What to do Before a
The following are things you can do to
protect yourself, your family, and your property in the event
of a fire:
- Install smoke alarms. Properly working smoke alarms
decrease your chances of dying in a fire by half.
- Place smoke alarms on every level of your residence.
Place them outside bedrooms on the ceiling or high on the
wall (4 to 12 inches from ceiling), at the top of open
stairways, or at the bottom of enclosed stairs and near
(but not in) the kitchen.
- Test and clean smoke alarms once a month and replace
batteries at least once a year. Replace smoke alarms once
every 10 years.
Escaping the Fire
- Review escape routes with your family.
- Practice escaping from each room.
- Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut. Make
sure security gratings on windows have a fire safety
opening feature so they can be easily opened from the
- Consider escape ladders if your residence has more than
one level, and ensure that burglar bars and other antitheft
mechanisms that block outside window entry are easily
opened from the inside.
- Teach family members to stay low to the floor (where
the air is safer in a fire) when escaping from a fire.
- Clean out storage areas. Do not let trash, such as old
newspapers and magazines, accumulate.
- Never use gasoline, benzine, naptha, or similar
flammable liquids indoors.
- Store flammable liquids in approved containers in
well-ventilated storage areas.
- Never smoke near flammable liquids.
- Discard all rags or materials that have been soaked in
flammable liquids after you have used them. Safely discard
them outdoors in a metal container.
- Insulate chimneys and place spark arresters on top. The
chimney should be at least three feet higher than the roof.
Remove branches hanging above and around the chimney.
- Be careful when using alternative heating sources.
- Check with your local fire department on the legality
of using kerosene heaters in your community. Be sure to
fill kerosene heaters outside, and be sure they have
- Place heaters at least three feet away from flammable
materials. Make sure the floor and nearby walls are
- Use only the type of fuel designated for your unit and
follow manufacturer’s instructions.
- Store ashes in a metal container outside and away from
- Keep open flames away from walls, furniture, drapery,
and flammable items.
- Keep a screen in front of the fireplace.
- Have heating units inspected and cleaned annually by a
Matches and Smoking
Keep matches and lighters up high, away from children, and,
if possible, in a locked cabinet.
Never smoke in bed or when drowsy or medicated. Provide smokers
with deep, sturdy ashtrays. Douse cigarette and cigar butts
with water before disposal.
- Have the electrical wiring in your residence checked by
- Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or
- Make sure outlets have cover plates and no exposed
- Make sure wiring does not run under rugs, over nails,
or across high-traffic areas.
- Do not overload extension cords or outlets. If you need
to plug in two or three appliances, get a UL-approved unit
with built-in circuit breakers to prevent sparks and short
- Make sure insulation does not touch bare electrical
- Sleep with your door closed.
- Install A-B-C-type fire extinguishers in your residence
and teach family members how to use them.
- Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system
in your residence.
- Ask your local fire department to inspect your
residence for fire safety and prevention.
What to do During a
If your clothes catch on fire, you should:
- Stop, drop, and roll - until the fire is extinguished.
Running only makes the fire burn faster.
- To escape a fire, you should:
- Check closed doors for heat before you open them. If
you are escaping through a closed door, use the back of
your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and
the crack between the door and door frame before you open
it. Never use the palm of your hand or fingers to test for
heat - burning those areas could impair your ability to
escape a fire (i.e., ladders and crawling).
- If the door is hot:
- Do not open. Escape through a window.
If you cannot escape, hang a white or
light-colored sheet outside the window,
alerting fire fighters to your
- If the door is cool:
- Open slowly and ensure fire and/or
smoke is not blocking your escape route. If
your escape route is blocked, shut the door
immediately and use an alternate escape
route, such as a window. If clear, leave
immediately through the door and close it
behind you. Be prepared to crawl. Smoke and
heat rise. The air is clearer and cooler
near the floor.
- Crawl low under any smoke to your exit - heavy smoke
and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
- Close doors behind you as you escape to delay the
spread of the fire.
- Stay out once you are safely out. Do not reenter. Call
What to do After a
The following are guidelines for different circumstances in
the period following a fire:
- If you are with burn victims, or are a burn victim
yourself, call 9-1-1; cool and cover burns to reduce chance
of further injury or infection.
- If you detect heat or smoke when entering a damaged
building, evacuate immediately.
- If you are a tenant, contact the landlord.
- If you have a safe or strong box, do not try to open
it. It can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door
is opened before the box has cooled, the contents could
burst into flames.
- If you must leave your home because a building
inspector says the building is unsafe, ask someone you
trust to watch the property during your absence.
Much of the info on this page was taken from FEMA's web site
which can be referenced at: