There is no point waiting until a fire occurs before figuring out what to do and where to go – especially when family members are involved. Having a well developed and rehearsed home fire safety plan will provide loved ones with crucial time to escape, and could certainly mean the difference between life and death. This blog post shows how to develop a home fire safety plan and demonstrates that it needn’t be an onerous task.
Develop a floor plan and identify the emergency exit path
The objective of a home fire safety plan is to provide the occupants of a dwelling sufficient knowledge and skill to escape a burning building in an efficient and timely manner. This is achieved by a) documenting the required information, b) communicating the information and then c) practicing the home fire safety plan.
The first step in developing a home fire safety plan is to draw a basic floor plan / map of your house, including key locations such as each person’s bedroom. Review the floor plan collectively with all occupants of the dwelling – identify both the primary and secondary path of exit so there are two means of escape for each person in the event of a fire. Some things to consider – are there obstacles to negotiate such as large furniture? Are there ‘landmarks’ along the way which could assist if smoke has reduced visibility to zero? Are there people in the home of differing ages, mental acuity or reduced physical mobility? If so it may be worth assigning a specific ‘buddy’ to assist these people. Nominate an agreed muster point where everyone is to gather at a safe distance having evacuated the building.
Practice the home fire safety plan
It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to actually do it. As the famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once said, “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” Rehearse the home fire safety plan and physically practice an escape with ALL members of the household, at least bi-annually. During the rehearsal, a mobile phone timer could be used to create a sense of urgency, reduced visibility due to thick smoke can be simulated by placing a blindfold on the occupant and have them attempt to navigate the exit path in a controlled manner. Once outside the building, everyone should assemble at the fire safety plan’s designated muster point and perform an after action review to identify any learnings and/or improvement opportunities. Time taken to escape the building can be recorded and used as a performance benchmark for future rehearsals.
Interconnected smoke alarms and the home fire safety plan
Because interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide greater early warning and response time to a fire, they should be installed within your home and form part of the overall home fire safety plan. Ensure they are installed in every bedroom, communal hallway outside the bedrooms and if in a multi-story dwelling then at least one on every floor. During the rehearsal of the home fire safety plan, test the interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms so all actually activate, and everyone becomes acquainted with their sound and meaning. Doing so may help lessen the sense of surprise or shock in a real-life fire event, and it is particularly important for young children who may not immediately associate the sound of a smoke alarm with danger.
Fire safety essentials within the home fire safety plan
Rehearsing your home fire safety plan is a great opportunity to impart some basic fire safety essentials. You may wish to document the following information in your home fire safety plan and ensure it is understood by all;
- Immediately phone triple zero 000 for Australian emergency services, including the fire department.
- Stay low to the ground to minimize inhaling toxic smoke and fumes which generally rise.
- Prior to opening a door, test it using the back of the hand to ascertain if there is heat on the other side.
- Close doors (but don’t lock) as you pass through them to limit air supply and possible expansion of the fire.
- Once outside at the designated muster point perform a head count. Do not head back inside the burning building for any reason.
An effective home fire safety plan should be specific to each dwelling, and the occupants should be intimately familiar with it. Review the home fire safety plan twice a year and rehearse escaping from the building so that knowledge is put into practice. Ensure interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms are included and test these during the practice-run. Basic fire safety essentials should also be added to the home fire safety plan and practiced – doing so will increase the opportunity for your loved ones to successfully escape a burning home in a real-life emergency event.