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Fire Safety Tips

By Dana Sullivan for Your Baby Today

The statistics about the death of children in home fires are grim: more than 1,000 children age 9 and under die each year (that's nearly three children every day). Most home fires are preventable and, with proper planning, a fire needn't end in tragedy.

To safeguard your family, practice the following recommendations from the National Fire Protection Association.


Each year, children who play with matches or lighters start about 100,000 fires. To prevent disaster, lock matches and lighters in an out-of-reach cabinet and never leave youngsters unsupervised around open flames.

In the kitchen:
  • Don't leave anything unattended: on a flame (on the stovetop), in a microwave, toaster, or toaster oven.

  • Keep the stovetop clear of ignitable items such as dishtowels, potholders, and wooden spoons.

  • Keep a large oven mitt and lid within reach to cover small pan fires.

  • Clean appliances thoroughly after cooking. Grease buildup ignites easily.

  • Teach children to stay three feet away from the stove when you're cooking.

  • Keep pot handles turned in and out of reach of groping hands.

Throughout the house:
  • If you smoke, don't leave cigarette butts in the ashtray. Throw them down the toilet.

  • Don't smoke in bed. When you're sleepy you may accidentally leave a smoldering cigarette to ignite bedding.

  • Use only one heat-producing appliance per electrical outlet.

  • Make sure electrical cords aren't frayed or worn. Even if cords are in perfect condition, don't run them under rugs or behind drapes.

  • Keep portable or space heaters at least three feet away from furniture, curtains, and bedding; turn them off before you go to sleep and whenever you leave the house.

  • Never place combustibles such as newspapers, magazines, or kindling near fireplaces, heaters, or radiators; and never use these heating devices to dry clothes.

  • Unplug electrical appliances when not in use.


Smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and escape ladders are essential to a fire safety plan. A working smoke detector on every level of your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire nearly in half. For a fire alert home:
  • Replace the batteries in each smoke detector once a year.

  • Test the batteries in every smoke detector once a month. Batteries are low when a detector "chirps," and they should be replaced immediately.

  • Replace smoke detectors every ten years.

  • Place a fire extinguisher on each level of your home. The best models for home use are rated "2-A:10-B:C" because they are safe to use on any fire.

  • Read the extinguisher's directions, before a fire breaks out, to understand how to use it. Use it only on your way out the door when you are six to eight feet away from the flames and within clear reach of an exit.

  • Most portable extinguishers only "blast" for about eight to ten seconds, and are ineffective on large or spreading fires.

  • Ask your local fire department how to properly use fire extinguishers. Or, rally a group of neighbors and tell the manager at your local hardware store that your group will buy multiple extinguishers if he arranges to have the manufacturer send a representative to give a tutorial.

  • Supply all upper level bedrooms with an escape ladder. Show children where the ladders are kept, how to attach them to the windows, and how to use them. Demonstrate how to back out of the window and go down the ladder feet first. The National Fire Protection Association doesn't recommend actually climbing down the ladder during fire drills because of the risk of falling.


If your family doesn't have a fire escape plan, make one today. Teach your children that if there's a fire, they need to get out of the home, and stay out until firefighters say it's okay to go back inside. Children as young as three years old can follow a well-rehearsed plan but adults should be responsible for escorting younger children out of the home. And be sure to have a back-up strategy in case one parent travels frequently. Here are some guidelines:
  • Teach children what a smoke detector sounds like and emphasize that whenever they hear the alarm they should go outside immediately.

  • Make sure that the home's exits are unobstructed by toys and debris.

  • Draw a basic diagram of your home, marking all windows and doors, and plan two routes out of each room. The first should be the door. The second will probably be a window if bedrooms are on the second or third floors.

  • Practice crawling low during drills in case your home is filled with smoke during a real fire.

  • Check all windows to make sure they open easily. Metal security bars on windows or doors should have quick-release mechanisms that everyone knows how to operate. Replace double-key deadbolts with locks that can be opened from the inside without a key.

  • If you live in a high-rise building, always use the stairway marked "Fire Exit" to practice your escape (and to leave during a real fire).

  • Show children how to cover their nose and mouth with a T-shirt or pajama top to reduce smoke inhalation.

  • Explain that before opening a door, it should be felt for heat. If the door is warm, everyone should exit via the alternate route.

  • Coach children to stand by the window and signal for help if they are unable to escape on their own. Remind them never to hide in a closet or under a bed.

  • Teach the stop, drop, and roll technique. After escaping from a burning building, anyone whose clothes are on fire should stop, drop to the ground, and roll over and over until the flames are out.

  • Designate an outdoor meeting place, such as a neighbor's mailbox or tree that is well away from your home. Tell your children that when they leave the burning building, they should go directly to that spot. Also, stress that they should never go back into the home to retrieve a forgotten toy or pet.

  • Practice the escape plan every six months. At least one drill should occur in the middle of the night because the majority of home-fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.

  • Inform caregivers about the escape route, and encourage grandparents to create and practice an escape plan that your family can rely on during a visit.

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Also see:
More tools and checklists
Child and baby safety checklist
Your Baby Today
Items to keep in your medicine cabinet

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