Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

The importance of emergency action plans

The Great Escape

Baltimore, Maryland

When you’re young, you usually don’t think about the consequences of your actions. In my household, my parents often had to repeat the rules because we weren’t listening. But when it came time to rehearse our family’s emergency action plans, we always paid attention.

It was a cold night and my sister and I had lit some candles on top of the dresser in our shared bedroom. At some point, we both fell asleep while the candles continued to burn. A few hours later, we were awakened by a strong smoke odor. When I sat up in my bed, I thought I was dreaming. The dresser was on fire and our door was closed! Apparently one of the glass candleholders had broken, allowing the flame to ignite the dresser.

I knew we had to get out of the bedroom as quickly as possible, but the burning dresser was blocking our exit. The only other escape route was through the windows. To alert my parents in the other bedroom, I banged on our common wall and yelled, “Fire!” While my dad ran to get the nearest fire extinguisher, my sister and I put our escape plan into action.

First, we opened all three windows as quickly as possible to keep the smoke from building inside the room. Next, we removed the bed sheets and tied them together to make a rope. We then tied one end of our rope tightly around the bed and threw the other end out the window. Finally, we climbed down the rope to the driveway, where we met the rest of our family.

Although the fire department was called, my dad was able to put out the fire — but not before the dresser, a wall and parts of the door and my sister’s bed were destroyed. Most importantly, though, no one was injured or killed thanks to the fire emergency plan our parents taught us and made us practice.

Never underestimate the usefulness of an emergency action plan for your family, especially one that outlines what to do in case of a fire. When teaching a fire emergency plan, consider doing the following:
  • Take a course at the local fire department about developing a fire emergency plan.

  • Identify possible fire hazard materials around the house.

  • Map out all exit routes in and around the house.

  • Identify all fire extinguishers and learn how to use them properly.

  • Place all emergency numbers near the telephone.

  • Practice a fire drill using all the escape routes.

  • Discuss and research any questions or concerns about fires.

Taking these simple measures, or even just talking about what to do in case of a fire, can help save lives. I look back now and wonder what would have happened if we’d never been taught an action plan. What if we didn’t know how quickly fires escalate? Would my sister and I have been able to escape on time? We sometimes have an it-won’t-happen-to-me attitude. The truth is anything can happen. When it does, you should be ready.

Did You Know?

Fire Prevention Week will be observed Oct. 7-13. For more information, visit www.firepreventionweek.org.


According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2011–2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,690 home structure fires started by candles each year. These fires caused an annual average of 82 civilian fire deaths, 800 civilian fire injuries and $295 million in direct property damage. In addition:
  • Candle fires are more common around the winter holidays.

  • Three of every five (59 percent) candle fires started when something that could burn, such as furniture, mattresses or bedding, curtains or decorations, was too close to the candle.

  • In 16 percent of the fires, the candles were unattended or abandoned.

  • Sleep was a factor in 11 percent of the fires and 21 percent of the candle fire deaths.

  • More than one-third (37 percent) of home candle fires began in the bedroom, although the National Candle Association found that only 13 percent of candle users most often burn candles in the bedroom.

Where there’s Smoke ...


Smoke alarms can save your life in a fire, but only if you have enough and they work properly. Do you have enough smoke alarms in your home? Are they located in the right places? Without working smoke alarms, you and your family may not wake up in time to get to safety if a fire breaks out in your home.

Installing smoke alarms
  • Smoke rises, so smoke alarms should be mounted high on walls or ceilings. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least 4 inches away from the nearest wall. Wall-mounted alarms should be installed 4-12 inches away from the ceiling.

  • Make sure the alarm is away from the path of steam from bathrooms and cooking vapors from the kitchen. These can cause false alarms.

  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors or ducts. They will not work correctly.

Ensuring it works
  • Test your smoke alarms once a month. Push the test button until you hear a loud noise.

  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms once a year. Put in a new battery if your alarm makes a “chirping” sound. This means the battery is low.

  • If your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, get new devices.

Purchasing new smoke alarms
  • Get enough to cover every level of your home, including the basement, and every bedroom.

  • If you can, buy interconnected smoke alarms. When one alarm goes off, they all sound. This means the alarm nearest you will go off sooner. It gives you more time to get your family to safety.

  • There are two kinds of smoke alarms: photoelectric and ionization. If possible, get some of each kind or buy combination smoke alarms that have both types of sensors.

  • Make sure your smoke alarms have been tested for safety by a laboratory. Look for a mark on the box such as ETL, UL or CSA.

For more information, visit http://homesafetycouncil.org.





  • 30 September 2018
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 1083
  • Comments: 0