Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die
and more than 25,000 are injured in fires,
many of which could be prevented. Direct
property loss due to fires is estimated
at $8.6 billion annually.
To protect yourself, it is important to
understand the basic characteristics of
fire. Fire spreads quickly; there is no
time to gather valuables or make a phone
call. In just two minutes, a fire can become
life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence
can be engulfed in flames.
and smoke from fire can be more dangerous
than the flames. Inhaling the
super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire
produces poisonous gases that make you
disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being
awakened by a fire, you may fall into a
deeper sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading
cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by
three-to-one ratio. Protect yourself with fire emergency products.
Before a Fire Smoke Alarms
- Install smoke alarms. Properly
working smoke alarms decrease your chances
of dying in a fire by half.
- Place smoke alarms on every level
of your residence. Place them outside
on the ceiling or high on the wall (4 to
12 inches from ceiling), at the top
of open stairways, or at the bottom of enclosed
stairs and near (but not in) the kitchen.
- Test and clean smoke alarms once
a month and replace batteries at least
once a year. Replace smoke alarms once
every 10 years.
Escaping the Fire
- Review escape routes with your family.
Practice escaping from each room.
- Make sure windows are not nailed
or painted shut. Make sure security
gratings on windows have a fire safety opening
feature so they can be easily opened from the inside.
- Consider escape ladders if your
residence has more than one level,
and ensure that burglar bars and other antitheft
mechanisms that block outside window
entry are easily opened from the inside.
- Teach family members to stay low
to the floor (where the air is safer
in a fire) when escaping from a fire.
- Clean out storage areas. Do not
let trash, such as old newspapers and
- Never use gasoline, benzine, naptha,
or similar flammable liquids indoors.
- Store flammable liquids in approved
containers in well-ventilated storage
- Never smoke near flammable liquids.
- Discard all rags or materials that
have been soaked in flammable liquids
after you have used them. Safely discard them
outdoors in a metal container.
- Insulate chimneys and place spark
arresters on top. The chimney should
be at least three feet higher than the roof.
Remove branches hanging above and around
- Be careful when using alternative
- Check with your local fire department
on the legality of using kerosene heaters
in your community. Be sure to fill
kerosene heaters outside, and be sure they have
- Place heaters at least three feet
away from flammable materials. Make
sure the floor and nearby walls are properly
- Use only the type of fuel designated
for your unit and follow manufacturer’s
- Store ashes in a metal container
outside and away from your residence.
- Keep open flames away from walls,
furniture, drapery, and flammable items.
- Keep a screen in front of the fi
- Have heating units inspected and
cleaned annually by a certified specialist.
Matches and Smoking
- Keep matches and lighters up high,
away from children, and, if possible,
in a locked cabinet.
- Never smoke in bed or when drowsy
or medicated. Provide smokers with
deep, sturdy ashtrays. Douse cigarette and
cigar butts with water before disposal.
- Have the electrical wiring in your
residence checked by an electrician.
- Inspect extension cords for frayed
or exposed wires or loose plugs.
- Make sure outlets have cover plates
and no exposed wiring.
- Make sure wiring does not run under
rugs, over nails, or across high-traffic
- Do not overload extension cords
or outlets. If you need to plug in
two or three appliances, get a UL-approved
unit with built-in circuit breakers
to prevent sparks and short circuits.
- Make sure insulation does not touch
bare electrical wiring.
- Sleep with your door closed.
- Install A-B-C-type fire extinguishers
in your residence and teach family
members how to use them.
- Consider installing an automatic
fire sprinkler system in your residence.
- Ask your local fire department to
inspect your residence for fire safety
If your clothes catch on fire,
you should: Stop, drop, and roll—until the
fire is extinguished. Running only makes
the fire burn faster.
To escape a fire, you should:
- Check closed doors for heat before
you open them. If you are escaping
through a closed door, use the back of
your hand to feel the top of the door,
the doorknob, and the crack between the
door and door frame before you open it.
Never use the palm of your hand or fingers
to test for heat—burning
those areas could impair your
ability to escape a fire (i.e.,
ladders and crawling).
If the Door is Hot:
- Do not open. Escape through a window.
If you cannot escape, hang a white or light-colored
the window, alerting fire fighters to our
If the Door is Cool:
- Open slowly and ensure fire and/or smoke
is not blocking your escape route.
If your escape route is blocked, shut
the door immediately and use an alternate
escape route, such as a window. If clear,
leave immediately through the door
and close it behind you.
Be prepared to crawl
Smoke and heat
rise. The air is
clearer and cooler near the floor.Hazards
- Crawl low under any smoke to your
exit—heavy smoke and poisonous
gases collect first along the ceiling.
- Close doors behind you as you escape
to delay the spread of the fire.
- Stay out once you are safely out.
Do not reenter. Call 9-1-1.
After a Fire
The following are guidelines for different
circumstances in the period following
- If you are with burn victims,
or are a burn victim yourself, call 9-1-1;
cool and cover burns to reduce chance
of further injury or infection.
- If you detect heat or smoke when entering
a damaged building, evacuate immediately.
- If you are a tenant, contact the landlord.
- If you have a safe or strong box,
do not try to open it. It can hold
intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened
before the box has cooled, the contents
could burst into flames.
- If you must leave your home because
a building inspector says the building
is unsafe, ask someone you trust to watch the
property during your absence.
- Follow the instructions for recovering
from a disaster in Part 5.
If you require more information about any
of these topics, the following are
resources that may be helpful.
After the Fire: Returning
to Normal. FA 046. This 16-page booklet
about recovering from a fire, including
what to do during the first 24 hours,
insurance considerations, valuing your
property, replacement of valuable documents,
salvage hints, fire department operations,
and more. Available online at
Your Family From Fire. FA 130.
This pamphlet was written to provide the
information you need to decide what you
must do to protect your family from fire.
Topics include children, sleepwear, older
adults, smoke detectors, escape plans,
residential sprinklers. Available online
Risks for the Hard of Hearing.
Fire Risks for the
Older Adult. FA 203
Fire Risks for the
Fire Risks for the
Blind or Visually Impaired.
FA 205 These reports address preparation
for fire risks for populations with special
All are available online at www.usfa.fema.gov/fire-service/education/education-pubs.shtm
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