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Fire Safety Tips That Can Save Your Life


Fire safety is always paramount, but now that you're spending a bit more time inside your home, it's imperative that you follow the proper fire safety procedures to make sure you and your family stay safe. Since we strive to "prevent the preventable" here at vipHomeLink, we reached out to Susan McKelvey of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to find out what you need to do to create an effective fire safety plan for your home. 

Understanding the danger

"There tends to be an over-confidence among American that fire won't happen to them," says McKelvey, who has worked for the NFPA for more than six years. "While the number of home fires have declined over the past 20 years or so, they're still happening."

The vast majority of fires are preventable, but there's much more work to do to reduce the risk.

"Because of that over-confidence, people don't always consider home fires something they should be concerned about, but in reality, it continues to be a risk," says McKelvey.

Take precautions to prevent a house fire.

While there is no way to completely fireproof a home, there are several steps you can take to dramatically reduce your risk. "Two of the most basic but essential ways to protect your household from fire are to make sure you have working smoke alarms everywhere you need them, and to create an escape plan, so that when the smoke alarm sounds, you and your family can use that time as wisely and effectively as possible."

Here's how to do just that. 

#1 – Install and maintain smoke detectors

Test your smoke detectors monthly!

McKelvey suggests the following steps to keep your smoke alarms functioning properly:

  • Install at least one alarm on every level of your home, near all sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom.
  • Install interconnected smoke alarms, so when one sounds, they all sound.
  • Use combination alarms, which detects two types of fires – smoldering and flaming.
  • Test your smoke alarms once a month, even if you have a 10-year battery or they're hardwired, to make sure they are in good-working order.
  • Change the batteries when the alarms indicate.
  • Replace smoke alarms every 10 years or sooner if the chirping doesn't stop when you change the batteries. ("Many homeowners don't realize that smoke alarms are not designed to work forever," says McKelvey.)

Not sure how old your smoke alarms are? Check the date of manufacture on the back of the alarm. Your alarm needs to be replaced 10 years from that date.

Stay attentive while cooking to prevent fires.

Tech tip: Nuisance alarms, such as those triggered by cooking, can result in people removing the batteries from their smoke alarms or dismantling altogether. This can have deadly consequences in the event of a home fire. With that understanding, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) will soon be requiring that all smoke alarm manufacturers create alarms that can detect the difference between smoke from a real fire and smoke from cooking.

"The goal is to minimize the number of nuisance alarms generated by cooking when there really isn't a fire," says McKelvey.

This will hopefully keep smoke alarms intact and alerting homeowners to fire-related threats. After all –

"Most homes have at least one smoke alarm, but they're not always maintained or working properly," says McKelvey. NFPA data shows that almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40%) or no working smoke alarms (17%). No smoke alarms were present in two out of every five (40%) home fire deaths. Many homes have smoke alarms that aren't working properly, either because of dead or missing batteries."

#2 – Get out, stay out

Get out, stay out.

Creating a home escape plan is essential for every household, even more so now that people are spending more time inside their homes.

Explains McKelvey, "Today's home fires burn so fast and you have such a small window of time to escape safely in a typical home fire. You may have as little as two minutes to get out safely from the time the smoke alarms sound."

Not sure how to make a fire escape plan? McKelvey suggests considering these essential steps:

  • Draw a grid of your home with all the rooms.
  • Identify two exits from each room (typically a door or a window).
  • Make sure all exits are not blocked (by furniture or clutter) and are in working order.
  • Determine an escape route outside from each room's exits.
  • Select a meeting place outside the home, generally in front, where everyone knows to gather.
  • Practice the plan (and different escape scenarios) with your household regularly, at least twice a year.

That last step is crucial and should not be overlooked.

Make and practice an evacuation plan.

"Practicing your plan creates muscle memory around what to do when the smoke alarm sounds," says McKelvey. "It sounds so simple, but ensuring that everyone has actually practiced the steps they'd take in a fire situation can have a potentially life-saving impact because everyone will be able to snap into action, know exactly what to do, and use the precious little time they have to get out quickly and safely."

That takes advanced planning and practice, says McKelvey. Equally important is practicing different scenarios, so your family will know how to escape a home fire if certain exits are blocked.

If possible, grab a cellphone on the way out, so you can call the fire department or include as part of your plan going to a neighbor's home, where you can call 911 as quickly as possible.

But NFPA stresses, "Get out, stay out."

The next wave of fire safety – sprinklers

Consider installing sprinklers into your new home.

NFPA sees sprinklers as the next step in fire safety evolution as the home fire death rate has remained fairly steady over the last few decades.

"What we're seeing is that when people have fires in their home, they're still having trouble escaping safely," says McKelvey. "Sprinklers dramatically reduce the likelihood of your risk to fire in terms of fatalities, but also injuries and property damage. They're safer for firefighters, too."

An arm of the NFPA is the "Fire Sprinkler Institute," which works to require sprinklers in new home constructions. As for the homeowners who fear seeing sprinklers in their homes, McKelvey assures that's not a problem.

"If you look at the way modern sprinklers are designed, it's just like a little tap flush with your ceiling, so you really can't see them. They're very tastefully done."

Awareness saves lives 

Awareness is the best defense against house fires.

The best life-saving measures when dealing with home fires is taking preventative steps and precautions.

Notes McKelvey, "In a real fire situation, it's scary. It's hot. There's smoke. You need to be prepared in advance to ensure that everyone in your home knows how to protect themselves."

That is why having a home fire escape plan and correct smoke alarm placement is so critically important.

"Having an awareness of the ways you can reduce your risk of home fire and protect yourself, your family members, and your home can really make such a tremendous difference." 

 If you have additional questions, head over to and check out the public education section.

To learn more about taking care of your home and preventing home fires, floods, and other incidents from damaging your home, check out our vipTIPs, exclusive to our members. Not a member? Not a problem! Get a monthly or annual membership now!

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