How to Create a Fire Evacuation Plan

2018 was an incredibly destructive year for California wildfires. The Camp Fire that swept Paradise was the deadliest in recorded state history. If you live in California or another state prone to wildfires, you may be wondering what precautions to take to protect your home and your family from a wildfire. To kick off the new year of 2019, we recommend you create a fire escape plan if you haven’t already.
A fire escape plan is as simple as it sounds—a plan of action for what you and your family will do if the smoke alarm starts ringing—but it is an invaluable tool if worst comes to worst. Here are some simple tips on how to make the most effective fire escape plan.
• First things first, it’s crucial that everyone in the household be on the same page. Gather your family or roommates to create a fire escape plan together. Walk through your household and take note together of possible exit routes (such as windows and doors), also noting areas or routes to avoid. If there are children in the household, drawing out a floor plan for them to refer to is not a bad idea. Double-check windows and doors that are marked out as escape routes to make sure they open easily.
• If anyone in the household has a disability or mobility limitations (such as being in a wheelchair) make sure to assign someone to be responsible for assisting them. A fire escape plan that leaves people behind is a defective fire escape plan.
• Install a fire and ember resistant vent such as the Vulcan Vent. This heat resistant vent will prevent flames or airborne embers from entering your home and igniting a flammable and vulnerable area such as the attic. The Vulcan Vent is coated with a non-toxic material that will expand and block heat when exposed to flame, and its fine heat-resistant mesh stops embers from entering.
• If there are security bars on your windows to keep out burglars, make sure these bars have an emergency release in case of a fire. The emergency release devices will not compromise the effectiveness of your security bars, but will allow for a speedier exit in case of a fire.
• You and your family or roommates should determine a meeting place, so that after exiting the house in case of a fire you all know where to go. This will allow you to make sure nobody is missing and nobody is hurt. It will serve as a point from which the next measure can be taken, such as calling the fire department and leaving as a group. Make sure everyone knows where the meeting place is and how to get there, and write it down on your fire escape plan. Also, make sure the address number of your home is clearly visible from the street. When help is called, you will want them to know immediately which house is yours. If your address number is not clearly visible from the street, remedy this as soon as possible.
• If possible, install a working smoke alarm in every room where a person is sleeping. It is crucial that sleeping household members be alerted as soon as possible in the case of a fire.
• Remember that under no circumstances should you or anyone else go back into the house once he or she has exited. If at the designated meeting place it is realized that someone is missing, do not try and get them yourself. Experienced firefighters are the only people who should go into the burning building. When you call the fire department, inform them of any missing household members.
• In order to make your fire evacuation plan effective, make sure to practice it several times a year (at least twice). This will refresh the memory of the plan, and make it a reality rather than just a list on paper. In order to make the most of out these practice evacuations, do your best to pretend as if they are the real thing. If there are children in the household, have them practice in the daytime before doing a nighttime practice evacuation.
• If your home has two or more floors, it is incredibly important to have fire escape ladders near the windows. Be sure to review the instructions of these ladders so household members can use them safely and effectively. Place them near the windows in an obvious location, rather than storing them in crowded drawers or closets. It’s important that nobody is spending precious time searching for them when they’re needed. Make sure to practice using these ladders from a first story window so that nobody is injured during the practice.
• If any household members are heavy sleepers who may not awaken immediately from a smoke alarm, assign somebody to wake them. This is especially relevant for children and the elderly, or anyone with a hearing or sleep disorder.
• Practice crouching low to the ground as you move throughout your home during a practice fire evacuation, as in the real thing this will need to be done to avoid the toxic smoke. Practice closing doors behind you, as this will impede the flow of smoke and fire.
• If someone’s clothes catch on fire they will need to stop, drop, and roll—so make sure to practice this. Check handles to see if they’re hot before opening them, as hot door handles indicate flames on the other side. Make sure to have two different escape routes from every room if possible.
• Since doors and windows are the openings in your home or apartment through which you or other members of the household will escape in the case of a fire, be sure to removed any objects that may be blocking your way. Under the stressful conditions of a fire, with breathing possibly impaired from the smoke, moving objects such as chairs, desks, cabinets, or any other reasonably heavy material from out of the way of a window or door is a waste of precious time in a fire evacuation scenario.
• For the sake of your and your household’s safety, it is incredibly important to change the batteries of all smoke alarms once every six months, and to test them regularly at one month intervals. The difference between a working smoke alarm and one with a dead battery can be the difference between life and death. If you do not have a fire and ember resistant vent installed in your home, install a Vulcan Vent immediately as it will prevent embers and flames from passing through and igniting your attic.
• It is possible that should your exit routes be blocked for whatever reason, you and the other members of the household will be unable to leave the house or apartment. In preparation for this scenario, designate a room with an exterior window as part of your fire evacuation plan. Should this happen, and you are forced to “seal yourself in” rather than evacuate, there are several supplies to have available in this designated room for the purpose of safety. Duck tape and/or towels should be stored in this designated room so that the door or doors can be sealed as much as possible, along with air vents to prevent incoming smoke. Also a flashlight should be stored in this room so that it can be waved before the window as a signal for help. If possible, crack the window to allow in fresh air. Though this situation is not ideal, it is possible, so prepare for this worst case scenario in a practice fire evacuation.
A fire escape plan is an essential thing to have for you and your household’s safety. In the case of a wildfire, it could save your life. We hope these tips have been helpful and that you never have to use them!