Help Center
Click to Home
Go To Search
When a home fire strikes, it’s too late to start developing a home fire escape plan. Every second counts. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. And it only take minutes for a house to fill with thick black smoke and become engulfed in flames. More than half of home fire deaths occur between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., when most people are sleeping. Pre-school children and older adults over 65 years of age are twice as likely to die in a home fire than any other age group.

Escape plans help you get out of the home quickly and safely. Everyone in the home needs advanced preparation, so they can snap into action when the smoke alarm sounds. Develop a fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year.

It’s not enough to have a smoke alarm. Protect your family by planning and practicing a home fire escape plan.

In 2010, there were an estimated 369,500 reported home structure fires and 2,640 associated civilian deaths in the United States. Fire can spread rapidly through your home, leaving you as little as two minutes to escape safely once the alarm sounds. Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms, and advance planning — a home fire escape plan that everyone in your family is familiar with and has practiced.
  • According to an NFPA survey, one of every five American households (23% have actually developed and practiced a home fire escape plan to ensure they could escape quickly and safely.
  • One third of surveyed Americans thought they would have at least six minutes before a fire in their home would become life-threatening. Experts agree the time is much less—perhaps as little as two minutes or less.
  • Only 8% said their first thought on hearing a smoke alarm would be to get out.

    Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning. Make a plan and test the plan. Ensure to conduct regular drills with everyone in your house.

    Use a graph to draw a basic floor plan of your home or apartment. Draw all floors in your home, including all windows and doors. Label each sleeping area. Show stairways and number of stairs at each stairway. Show two ways out of each room (usually a door and a window) by using arrows. After you have drawn your floor plan, discuss the escape routes with everyone in your home.
  • Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.
  • Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.
  • Choose an outside meeting place (such as a neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan.
  • Go outside to see if your street number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.
  • Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.
  • If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.
  • If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Emergency release devices won't compromise your security - but they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.
  • Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family's fire escape plan. When staying overnight at other people's homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don't have a plan in place, offer to help them make one. This is especially important when children are permitted to attend "sleepovers" at friends' homes. See NFPA's "Sleepover fire safety for kids" fact sheet (attached).
  • Be fully prepared for a real fire: when a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately. Residents of high-rise and apartment buildings may be safer "defending in place."
  • Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

    Practice the plan with a realistic fire drill so that when the smoke alarm sounds, family members will immediately move to a safe location outside of the home. Get the entire family involved!
  • Teach everyone in your home how to unlock and open the windows and doors.
  • Teach your kids:
         -To touch doors to see if they are hot before opening. If so, use an alternate route.
         -How to cover their nose and mouth to reduce smoke inhalation.
         -Not to hide from firefighters. Uniforms can be very scary in times of crisis. Firefighters are there to help.
         -To never go back inside the burning house.
  • Since most home fires occur in the early morning hours, have your family (including children, baby-sitter, and older family members) pretend they are sleeping.
  • Make the house dark as if it is smoke filled.
  • Begin the fire drill with the sounding of your smoke alarm, making sure everyone can clearly hear and recognize the sound.

  • Who has the responsibility of waking a child or older adult.
  • If you have babies or toddlers in the home:
            -Keep a baby harness by the crib in case of emergencies. The harness allows you to comfortably carry your baby and leave your hands free to escape the home.
           -Keep your kid’s bedroom door closed. If a hallway fire occurs, a closed door will hinder smoke from overpowering your baby or toddler, giving firefighters extra time for rescue.
  • Have family members practice escaping through smoke by crawling low on hands and knees.
  • Never open doors that are hot to the touch.
  • Ensure family members close doors behind them.
  • Remind family members not to stop to get dressed or collect possessions.
  • Follow your planned escape all the way through to the meeting place. Take attendance. GET OUT AND STAY OUT – Never go back into a burning building for any reason. If a person or a pet is missing or trapped inside, tell the firefighters immediately. They are equipped to perform rescues safely.
  • Designate one person to go the neighbors to call the Fire Department/911.
  • Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.
  • It's important to determine during the drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation.
  • If your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. Escape ladders can be placed in or near windows to provide an additional escape route. Review the manufacturer's instructions carefully so you'll be able to use a safety ladder in an emergency. Practice setting up the ladder from a first floor window to make sure you can do it correctly and quickly. Children should only practice with a grown-up, and only from a first-story window. Store the ladder near the window, in an easily accessible location. You don't want to have to search for it during a fire.
  • Always choose the escape route that is safest – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to your exit.
  • In some cases, smoke or fire may prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice "sealing yourself in for safety" as part of your home fire escape plan. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and bottom so fresh air can get in. Call the fire department to report your exact location. Wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.

  • Remove obstacles or rearrange furniture that may prevent a quick and safe evacuation (including blocked exits, jammed or barred windows).
  • If children or other family members could not hear the alarm, install additional alarms and adjust the escape plan to help all members get out safely.
  • Call the Charleston Fire Department (843) 720-1981 for a free smoke alarm and installation, and advice on your fire escape plan.


    Family Fire Drills (Spanish)
    Fire Escape Planning (Spanish)
    Fire Safety for Grandparents
    High-Rise Building Safety
    Home Fire Escape Checklist
    Home Fire Disaster Prep
    Home Fire Disaster Prep (Spanish)

    Security Bar Safety
    Senior Fire Safety
    Senior Fire Safety (Spanish)
    Sleepover Safety for Kids and Sleepover Checklist

    Safe Kids Trident Area
    National Fire Prevention Association Education
    Burn Prevention Foundation