When a smoke alarm sounds we all know what to do, right? Find the nearest escape route, get out and stay out! But if that exit is blocked, the best escape plan in the world will not help you and your family get to safety.
Items that block doors and windows in your home could keep you from escaping in the event of a home fire. Any emergency can affect one’s ability to think clearly, but during a fire, smoke and other physical factors can literally inhibit your ability to react. Add a blocked escape route to the equation and your chances of safely escaping a fire may decrease even more. Not only can blocked windows and doors hinder you and your family’s ability to escape a fire, but they can also keep firefighters from successfully completing their rescue attempts.
While many blocked escape routes are unintentional, such as large furniture or a pile of toys, others, like security bars, serve a purpose. Despite a downward trend in overall fire deaths in the United States, the number of fire deaths related to the use of security bars has risen, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Most of these fatal fires occur in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. Due to a heightened fear of crime in these neighborhoods, people take measures to secure their homes and discourage intruders from entering, thereby, either consciously or unconsciously, placing a higher priority on security than on fire safety. This is particularly dangerous because people living in high-crime and/or low-income areas usually face increased fire risk as well. Increased fire risk, combined with blocked windows and doors, are most dangerous for young children, older adults, and people with disabilities, for whom escape might be more difficult, even under ordinary circumstances.
Whether your home has security bars or other items blocking escape routes, the following tips can help you to increase your chances of escaping your home should a fire occur:
• Use emergency release devices inside all barred doors and windows. Emergency release devices enable you to push the bars open from the inside, but they don’t affect the security provided outside. These devices can involve pulling a lever, pushing a button, stepping on a pedal or kicking in a lever on the floor. Make sure everyone in the household knows how to operate the release devices.
• Padlocks can be a barrier to safety. In the event of a home fire, you’ll need access to every escape route. Remove padlocks so the door or window can be used as an escape route.
• When arranging furniture and other items, make sure that you’re not blocking doors or windows with televisions, heavy dressers, tables, couches, even potted plants. Every room needs two ways out. Remove furniture that may be blocking doors or windows.
• Never nail or paint windows shut. Opening them could be crucial in the event of a home fire. Inspect your windows and doors. Remove nails or paint that could prevent using windows for escape.
• A pile of toys or other items in front of a doorway can block your escape route and could be a threat to the safety of you and your family. Remove toys that may be blocking doors or windows.
In addition to clearing clutter and unblocking exits, the most important key to your family’s safety is planning and practicing a home fire escape plan. Make sure you develop a fire escape plan that identifies two ways out of each room and a family meeting place outside. Practice using the plan, at least twice a year. If everyone knows that everyone else is ready to exit quickly, no one will lose precious time trying to help someone who doesn’t need help.
This October 5-11 is Fire Prevention Week. What better time to make sure you are prepared in the event of a fire? Fire departments across the country are encouraging local families to make a fire escape plan and practice it during The Great American Fire Drill. For more information visit www.firepreventionweek.org or www.sparky.org.
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