House Fire Evacuation Drill

Today’s family preparedness challenge is a house fire evacuation drill. It is important that preparation is coupled with practice to establish habits that become automatic when an emergency occurs. Panic can be your worst enemy in an emergency situation. Practicing your fire evacuation plan can significantly reduce panic and increase your chances of survival.

Fire Preparedness

A successful evacuation is based on preparedness. During the fire drill challenge you will probably become aware of items prohibiting your quick escape. Reference the house fire preparedness tips to get a start on preparing your home in case of a fire. Being alerted early is critical to survival when a home catches fire, especially while sleeping, when most fatal home fires occur.

Create a Plan

Start by downloading our fire evacuation planner to create a fire drill plan with your family. Print a copy for each level of your home. Follow these instructions to create the plan.

Map Your Home

Draw the rooms of your house on the grid. Be sure to indicate where the doors and windows are. If you have kids, this exercise can be made fun for them; print out extra copies and let everyone draw a map of the house. Drawing the map themselves will help reinforce the layout of your home in their minds.

Mark Your Exits

For each room, highlight two potential exit points. Mark one as option A and the other as option B. Typically option A is the door and option B is the window. Later we will discuss how to determine which option to use. Number the primary exits of the home.

Choose a Meeting Place

Select a place outside, near the home, where everyone will meet once they are out of the house. Choose a meeting place that is easy to find like a tree or a lamp post. Identify a meeting place in a main area of the home for gathering inside which will be used in the next step.

Draw Escape Routes

Exiting through doors

Natural instinct leads us out the door of the room and towards the rooms of our family members. Collecting the family and exiting the home together is the best case scenario, especially when small children or older adults are involved. When mapping your escape routes, start with this projected path. Route A can be out of the room through the door to the interior meeting place, then out one of the main exits as a group. These routes can be A1 & A2 for example. Repeat this routing for each level of the house and end the route at the designated outdoor meeting place.

Exiting through windows

For each room define route B; typically out a window. Exiting out a window introduces more complexity then through doors, so be sure to visit each window and run through an exiting scenario to identify challenges and determine if additional preparation is required. Once again make sure the final destination of the route is the meeting place outside.

Screens can sometimes be challenging to remove and in an emergency situation it might be best to just break through them. If your home has security bars on the windows make sure they have emergency release mechanisms on the inside and that everyone knows how to operate them.

Exiting Buildings

If you live in a multi-tenant building, routes will also be determined by the building escape plan. The fire evacuation plan should be posted in the hallway or entrance area on each floor of the building. Review the evacuation routes and incorporate them into your plan. Keep in mind that a fire at your residence might not be the only reason you need to escape the building. In the case of building fires elevators are typically not an option, and if the fire is on a lower level the stairs may also be off limits. Depending on what floor you live on you should consider getting a multiple story window ladder.

Define Roles

Assign duties to different family members to avoid confusion and discussion in the event of an actual fire. Determine who will provide assistance to other members of the household. In the case of infants, older adults, individuals with disabilities or special needs, someone will need to be assigned to assisting them. If mobility is an issue for anyone, make sure any assistance devices are easily accessible. Designate backups for each role in case the assigned individual is not home when the house fire occurs.

Finalize and Post the Plan

Run through the plan by calmly going through the motion in each room. No need to do a full drill at this point, the goal is just to make sure each of the routes identified are legitimate options for escape. Once the plan has been confirmed, post it on the refrigerator or in a hallway. Having the plan visible not only serves as a reminder to practice the plan, but also provides information for guests. Add the number of the local fire department to everyone’s phone.

Practice the Plan

Initially you should practice the plan in a calm and comfortable situation. Go through the motions, discuss scenarios and work out the details. The objective is to practice, not to frighten. By making the response to an emergency second nature you can create peace of mind and reduce panic. Run the fire evacuation drill during normal waking hours and signal the challenge with a whistle, initially. Once the fire evacuation drill has been completed a few times, signal the actual fire alarm while everyone is sleeping for a more real world fire drill. The first time a nighttime drill is executed give your family warning to reduce anxiety and confusion. An unannounced fire evacuation drill will be the ultimate test of evacuation preparedness.

Going through the motions

Make sure everyone is clear on the instructions for a window exit. Discuss how they are unlocked, how to deal with the screen and how to use the ladder if necessary. Have everyone return to the rooms they sleep in, blow the whistle and execute plan A. Repeat this drill for plan B. Meet at the designated place outside. If a window ladder is a potential part of the plan, actually using it for real is not a bad idea, just be careful and don’t spook your neighbors.

Include the pets

If some of your family members are furry, you will want to consider including them in the evacuation drill. Dogs can be trained for emergency evacuations too. Teaching your dogs to join you at the designated meeting places when the whistle or alarm are sounded helps ensure your escape part includes all family members. Animals that are not trained or have limited mobility will need to be included in different ways. Have a bag or backpack at the ready that you can throw smaller animals into to carry them out with you. Make sure the timer is running during your practice drills. Time is limited in these situations and reality dictates that the goldfish might not be in the escape party.

Schedule a reoccurring fire evacuation drill

This family survival challenge is meant to get your family prepared for a house fire, but practice makes perfect. Schedule a family fire drill for 1-2 times a year. Consider scheduling it around an event to create a habit association. Spring is a good season to practice for those that live in hot dry climates with increased fire risk during the hot months. Performing a drill before fireplace season is another alternative. Learn more about the common causes of house fires and decide what is best for your family.

Fire Evacuation

Once alerted to the fire making sure that everyone is aware is necessary for all family members to execute the plan and survive. Following escape plan A, gather the family members and exit the home if possible. Moving through the house from bedroom to bedroom could be a risky proposition based on the origin of the fire, which is when the secondary plans are initiated. Having a whistle handy enables you to draw attention to the emergency during any type of evacuation.

If you are awakened to a fire, evacuate! Follow the plan and get everyone out to safety; leave the fight to the professionals. Time is limited in this scenario, and time spent trying to put out the fire, is valuable time needed for evacuation. In cases where the ignition is witnessed and you are prepared for the situation, then fighting the fire is a natural reaction. Awaking to a fire means you have no clue how desperate the situation could be, so focus on getting the family out.

Making your way through the house

Move quickly but safely, fires can spread rapidly and you could have as little as 2 mins to escape. Plan A is the primary plan for a reason but not always the best option. Doors can be safety barriers to contain flames and smoke, only open the doors necessary for the evacuation and make sure they are safe to open. Close any open doors as you travel through the house to keep the flames contained as much as possible.

Check Door Heat

Putting your hand on the interior of the door to see if it is hot. If the door is warm or hot to the touch there is most likely flames on the other side. You can also check the door handle as it is typically metal and will heat faster, just be sure to touch it quickly. It was funny when Joe Pesci grabbed the hot doorknob in Home Alone, but it would not be a good start to an emergency evacuation. Opening a door in this case will help the spread of the fire and compromise the room you are in.

Stay Low

Heavy smoke and deadly gases collect along the ceiling, so stay low when traveling through the house. Smoke inhalation causes confusion and disorientation, and you want to maintain a clear head. If you are in a room filled with black smoke, get all the way to the floor and army crawl out of the room.

Flee to Fight

Sometimes going out of the house using secondary escape options is the best way to get to other rooms when main corridors are compromised. If the door is hot, execute secondary plans. If you need to get to other rooms as part of your role, getting to their windows might be the better option when flames have reached your door.

When Cornered

Depending on where the fire originated or how quickly you were alerted, you might find yourself in a situation where none of the exits are options. In this situation seal yourself in. Close all doors between you and the fire and seal door cracks and vents with duct tape. Place a wet towel at the bottom of the door. If possible open a window to allow fresh air into the room.

Evacuation while away from home

What if you are not at home, staying with a friend or at a hotel, do you know the escape plan? What if your kid is spending the night with a friend, do you feel comfortable in the parents ability to response to a house fire? Don’t be afraid to ask if they have a fire evacuation plan, there is nothing more important than your child’s safety. If they don’t have a plan, share this article with them.

Thank a Firefighter

When a house fire arises, the occupants of the home or building are not the only ones put at risk. Firefighters and their families are placed at risk while responding to the emergency. So if you know a firefighter do something nice for them. If you want to support your local fire department, reach out and find types of support most impactful for your local department.

Additional Resources:
Ready.gov House Fires
U.S. Fire Administration

Be Safe!




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