Fort McCoy News Feb. 26, 2016

Home fire emergencies — Are you prepared?

BY ART POWELL
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center

A home fire isn't the time to create a Family evacuation plan.

Home fires never occur at a convenient time. You may be awakened at 2:30 a.m. by the smell of smoke or the sound of an alarm. Your mind races: Am I really awake? Is this really happening?

I've got to get my family out of here, now! Do something!

The ability to get out of a fire emergency depends on warnings from smoke detectors and advanced planning, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

"In a fire, seconds count and you may have as little as one to two minutes to safely escape once the smoke alarm sounds," said Judy Comoletti with the NFPA. "That's why it's critical every home has working smoke alarms. Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home (including the basement), outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms so when one sounds, they all sound."

During 2013, an estimated 369,000 reported structure fires resulted in 2,755 civilian deaths in the United States.

Planning is key to preparing to evacuate in a fire emergency at your residence. Gather as a family and make a plan by walking through the home and inspecting all possible exits and escape routes. Think about showing children two exits from each room, such as a door and window. Designate a gathering point outside the home for everyone to meet once they exit.

Other escape-planning tips include:

• Talk with all household members about the fire escape plan regularly and practicing the plan twice a year.

• When practicing the escape plan, try it at different times of the day. Practice waking up to smoke alarms, low crawling, and meeting outside. Make sure everyone knows how to call 911.

• Teach household members to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes should catch on fire.

"Escape planning is an important element of home fire safety," said Comoletti. "A home fire-escape plan is put in place if the smoke alarm sounds. The plan should include two ways out of every room and an outside meeting place where everyone will gather. Once outside the home, call 911 using a cellphone or neighbor's phone. It's important to practice your home fire drill at least twice a year."

The American Red Cross reports that 80 percent of Americans don't realize home fires are the single-most common disaster in the United States. The organization estimates only 26 percent of families have actually developed and practiced an escape plan.

"The leading cause of home fires is unattended cooking. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a short time, turn off the stove," said Comoletti.

Other tips for cooking safety include:

• Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

• Stay in the home while simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food. Check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that food is cooking.

• Keep anything that can catch fire — like pot holders, towels, plastic and clothing — away from the stove.

• Keep pets off cooking surfaces and countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner.

Other home fire-safety tips include:

• Test smoke alarms once a month. If they're not working, change the batteries.

• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

• Keep items that can catch on fire at least 3 feet away from anything that gets hot.

• Talk to your children regularly about the dangers of fire, matches, and lighters and keep them out of reach.

• Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to sleep.

For more information on fire safety, visit https://safety.army.mil.

For more information about fire safety at the installation, call the Fort McCoy Fire Department at 608-388-4077.