Fire Preparedness

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Fire is one of the most common disasters, causing more deaths than any other type of disaster. About 75% of deaths in fires are from smoke inhalation. Most deaths in house fires occur when people are sleeping. Smoke numbs the senses and causes deeper sleep.

But fire doesn't have to be deadly if you have early warning from a smoke detector and everyone in your family knows how to escape calmly. Please be serious about the responsibility for planning for and practicing what to do in case of a fire.

One way to be prepared is by having various household members do each of the items on the checklist below. Then sit down together to discuss and finalize your personalized Fire Plan. If this plan doesn’t work for your family, adopt another plan. The important thing to remember is to have a working plan, whatever the source.

Fire Plan Checklist:

____ Install smoke detectors in each sleeping area and on each additional level of your residence. Keep new batteries on hand. Some newer brands of smoke detectors have a long life lithium battery that lasts the life of the detector (about 7 - 10 years). Be sure you know the difference before installation. Be sure to install smoke detectors in optimal locations.

  • New smoke detectors installed:_________(date)
  • Batteries purchased:__________(date)
  • Test smoke detectors once a month. Use the test button to check each smoke detector. When necessary, replace batteries immediately. Replace batteries at least once a year.
  • Dust can cause false alarms. Use a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove dust and cobwebs.
  • Do not get paint in the unit.

_____ Install carbon monoxide detectors. They are especially important if you use: a fireplace, wood burning stove, propane gas appliances, kerosene heaters, or a flue for oil burning heat systems. While they will not alert you to a fire, they can alert you to a malfunctioning appliance in your home that may lead to a fire. Maintenance and installation considerations are about the same as those for smoke detectors.

  • New carbon monoxide detectors installed:_________(date)
  • Batteries purchased:__________(date)
  • Test carbon monoxide detectors once a month. Use the test button to check each detector. When necessary, replace batteries immediately. Replace batteries at least once a year.
  • Dust can cause false alarms. Use a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove dust and cobwebs.
  • Do not get paint in the unit. Cover detectors when doing work in the room such as painting or other work with solvents, etc. Remember to remove the cover after work is complete.
  • ____ Purchase or look at the fire extinguisher(s) you currently have and ensure they are properly charged.
  • Use the gauge or test button to check proper pressure. If the unit is low on pressure, damaged, or corroded replace it or have it professionally serviced.
  • Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen at the minimum.
  • Keep fire extinguishers within easy reach near a room’s exit – NOT in a cabinet.
  • If necessary, get training from your local fire department in how to use your fire extinguisher
  • ____________________________________________________ (family member names) have been trained to use the extinguisher.
  • ____ Draw a floor plan of your home and determine at least two ways to escape from every room of your home.
  • If a window is an escape route, make sure is can be opened easily and is large enough for people to get through.
  • If a barred opening is an escape route, assure that security bars can be opened quickly without a key.
  • If you must use an escape ladder, be sure everyone knows how to use it.
  • Mark normal exits on the map in one color. Mark a second exit from each room in a different color.
  • Assure that one able-bodied adult is assigned to help each very young child or disabled person to escape.
  • Choose a safe meeting place a short distance from your home and note it on your plan.
  • Floor plan completed:_____________ (date)
  • ____ Pick a safe outside place to meet after escaping from a fire. Assure that the area chosen can be seen by arriving firefighters. If not, be sure someone knows to alert the incoming firefighters that all people are out of the house as soon as firefighters arrive.
  • Meeting place:__________________________________
  • ____ Practice a low-crawl escape from your bedroom.
  • Try it with your eyes closed to see how well you could do in thick smoke.
  • ____ Conduct a home fire drill at least twice a year.
  • Make sure the first drills are easy, understandable, and during daylight hours.
  • As drills are repeated, change some of the scenarios: put “smoke and flames” signs on primary exits so that people will have to practice using backup exits, hold some drills at night, etc.
  • ____ Prepare written instructions on how to turn off utilities at your house and place them in or near the fuse box.
  • ____ Make a chart and sign it after each round of tests.
  • _____________________(family member name) checks smoke detectors
  • _____________________(family member name) checks carbon monoxide detectors
  • _______________________ (family member name) checks fire extinguishers.
  • __________________(date) smoke escape drill conducted
  • __________________(date) home fire drills conducted

Important tips to cover during your family fire drills:

  • If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL 911 for help.
  • If you see smoke in your first escape route, use your second way out.
  • If you must exit through smoke, crawl low under the smoke to escape.
  • If you are escaping through a closed door, feel the door before opening it. If it is hot, use your second way out.
  • Once you are out, stay out!
  • When the fire department arrives, make sure someone in the family tells them immediately where someone is trapped in the house OR that everyone is out of the house.
  • If smoke, heat, or flames block your exit routes, stay in the room with the door closed. Signal for help using a bright-colored cloth at the window.
  • If there is a telephone in the room, call 911 and tell them where you are.


Is your chimney safe? How do you know? You need to know whether your chimney is safe or not before using your stove or fireplace each fall and winter. Broken or cracked chimneys can let heat, smoke and toxic gasses such as carbon monoxide into your home, and your home could even catch fire. Some damage is obvious, and some is hidden:

  • Check to see if bricks have fallen or the chimney is leaning.
  • Look for cracks at joints where the chimney connects to the firebox, at the roofline and in the attic.
  • Check to see if the chimney cap is clogged
  • Use a screwdriver to check the mortar between the bricks or stones. If it crumbles when you pick at it, the chimney may be a hazard.
  • When in doubt, consult a licensed engineer or contractor. For the name of an inspector, call your insurance or mortgage company.
  • Clean your chimney or have a chimney sweep clean it annually.

Look around the outside of your home for other fire dangers.

  • Store all combustibles such as firewood, picnic tables, boats, etc away from your home.
  • Regularly clean roof surfaces and gutters of pine needles, leaves, branches and other debris to avoid accumulation of flammable materials.
  • Remove portions of any tree extending within 10 feet of the flue opening of any stove or chimney.
  • Keep any open flames, such as candles or torches enclosed in glass or other fire proof material.
  • Place portable fire pits on stable fireproof surfaces, such as concrete and away from combustibles.
  • Keep your grill away from walls, out from under eaves, and away from overhanging leaves/branches.
  • Keep your grill at least three feet away from your home.

If you are unsure of how to properly install smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, call 789-3610. Accomack County residents who do not have a smoke detector and are unable to purchase one may call 789-3610.

Some websites to visit for additional information:

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