Column: Look, listen, learn to escape home fire


Today’s home fires burn faster than ever.

In a typical home fire, you may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Knowing how to use that time wisely takes planning and practice.

Local Fire Departments are teaming up with the National Fire Protection Association to promote this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere,” which works to educate the public about basic but essential ways to quickly and safely escape a home fire. NFPA statistics show that the number of home fires in America has been steadily declining over the past few decades. However, the death rate per 1,000 home fires that are reported to fire departments was 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980.These numbers show that while significant progress has been made in teaching the public how to prevent fires from happening, there’s still much more work to do in terms of educating the public about how to protect themselves in the event of one. This is particularly critical given the increased speed at which today’s home fires grow and spread.

Although most people feel safest in their home, it is also the place people are at greatest risk to fire, with four out of five fire deaths in America occurring at home. That over-confidence contributes to a complacency toward home escape planning and practice. Those of us who work in the fire service know that people often make choices in fire situations that jeopardize their safety or even cost them their lives. The contents and construction of the typical home today emphasizes the need for the public to have the life-saving difference of an escape plan in place and to practice it with all members of the household. The “Look. Listen. Learn” campaign highlights three steps people can take to help quickly and safely escape a fire:

Look for places fire could start. Also, for exit signs in public buildings.

Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm.

Learn your family’s home escape plan which includes two ways out of every room. Formulate one if you don’t have one!

While NFPA and local fire departments are focusing on home fires, these fire safety messages apply to virtually anywhere. Situational awareness is a skill people need to use wherever they go. No matter where you are, look for available exits. If the alarm system sounds, take it seriously and exit the building immediately.

Many of our fire departments will be visiting local schools during Fire Prevention Week, which is this week. Their hopes are as always to instill the importance of fire prevention and fire safety to the children of our community. When your children come home, we hope excited about fire prevention and safety, encourage and support their interests. Encourage the family to check the smoke alarms, formulate an escape plan if one is not already in place, practice it if one is in place and look throughout the home for any other fire safety hazards. If you have questions or concerns, contact your local fire department. We would always much rather talk to you under those conditions than during an emergency. No one ever thinks that a fire could happen to them. In 2016 over 2,500 people in the United States died in a fire. None of them did either.

John C. Smith is chairman of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters’ Association, District 18 Education Officer and a member of the Huntingburg Volunteer Fire Department.

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