According to a survey conducted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly three-quarters of Americans have created an escape plan in case of a fire at home. However, less than half of those people have ever practiced their plans. NFPA recommends not only mapping out detailed escape routes, but practicing with the entire family at least twice a year, which is what inspired this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme: “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!”

With every October comes Fire Prevention Week, implemented by President Woodrow Wilson in 1920 in remembrance of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed 250 people and destroyed more than 2,000 acres of property. This year’s Fire Prevention Week falls on Sunday, October 8 through Saturday, October 14, and NFPA encourages Americans to observe by creating and practicing home escape routes.

The best way to get started is to sit down with the family for a discussion. NFPA offers some advice on how to get that conversation going and implement a plan:

  • Put time into perspective. Ask your family members to visualize the home, and discuss in pairs or as a group all the ways to get out of the home—the catch is, they only have two minutes to do so. After the 120 seconds are up, tell them that that is roughly the same amount of time they would have to escape in the event of a fire, which is not enough time to come up with an escape plan on the spot. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan in place ahead of time.
  • Draw a map of the home, including all windows and doors. On that map, draw two ways out of each room.
  • Once the map is drawn, take the entire family around the home and make sure each way out is usable.
    • Remove any objects that could block windows and doors.
    • Make sure each member of the family can open each window and door.
  • The evacuation plan doesn’t end with escaping the building—be sure to choose a meeting place in front of your home. Make sure every person in the family knows which tree, light pole, or other permanent landmark to gather next to. This will make headcounts easier.
  • Plan ahead how you will assist anyone who may need help escaping, like young children, elderly adults or disabled family members. Assign someone to help ahead of time so everybody knows what their responsibility is during an emergency.
  • Practice the plan at least twice a year, and remember that every second counts—practice getting out of the building in under two minutes. NFPA says that about half of home fire deaths result from fires reported between the hours of 11:00pm and 7:00am, so be sure to practice the plan at least once during night hours.

As always, don’t forget to test your smoke alarms regularly and replace the batteries when needed. A good rule of them is to replace your smoke alarm batteries while you are changing your clocks for Daylight Savings Time. An added bonus – this will help you avoid the annoying “chirp” of low smoke alarm batteries in the middle of the night!

Also, remember smoke alarms have a shelf life. If yours are 10 years old or older – replace the entire unit as soon as possible! An evacuation plan is far more effective when the alarm system in your home is updated and fully functional.

Check out NFPA’s website for more information about this year’s Fire Prevention Week.